Xanadu Rolls Into Beck
For those who remember the 1980's, the mere mention of the movie "Xanadu" will inspire a giggle, usually followed by a blush of embarrassment for participating in the fads of the time. Leg warmers, roller disco, even the movie's star, Olivia Newton John, have all become symbols of the decade, and are now considered silly by those who survived it.
It is from this source material that the Broadway musical version of XANADU was pulled. However, where Newton-John and the original screenwriters Richard Danus and Marc Rubel were earnest and innocent, Douglas Carter Beane, who adapted the script for Broadway, is a cynic. And a comic genius.
In the production which opened Friday, September 14 at the Beck Center's Mackey Main Stage, Director Scott Spence opened the show, telling the audience that XANADU the film was one of the worst ever made. The production that follows was irreverent, and very humorous.
The show opens on Sonny Malone, a roller-skating artist struggling to create in Venice Beach in 1980. Played with wide-eyed innocence by Sam Wolf, Sonny gets both a good laugh and a sympathetic connection to the audience within just minutes. As he leaves the stage, the chalk mural he was working on, a scene from Mt. Olympus depicting the Muses, comes to life, introducing us to the rest of the cast in the song, “I'm Alive.” At the center is the muse Clio, thereafter known as Kira (played by Kathleen Rooney), who decides it is her mission to inspire Sonny on his quest to create the world's first roller disco.
The story is cute, the jokes are funny, and the songs are good, or as good as they ever were. Greg Violand really shines as Danny McGuire, the jaded businessman-turned-disco owner in the role originally played by Gene Kelly. In the small cast, where each actor portrays multiple roles, truly comic performances make the characters stand out. However, it is the male actors cast as women (Ben Donahoo as “Thalia” and Matthew Ryan Thompson as “Terpsichore”) who give the most outlandish performances, and get the biggest laughs. There is just something a little bit Monty Python about seeing these boys vogue in flowy Greek mini-dresses!
The show also includes some updates with modern slang and pop-culture references, so that those who are too young to remember 1980 will also be laughing throughout. The set is neon and gorgeous, using the small Mackey stage to efficiently transport the audience to both Venice Beach and Mt. Olympus. It also provides an on-stage home for the small “orchestra,” made up of keyboards, guitars, and drums.
At just 90 minutes run-time with no intermission, XANADU is a fast-paced pleasure filled with laughs and nostalgia. It runs through October 14.
Tickets for Xanadu are $28 for adults, $25 for seniors (65 and older), $17 for students (with valid ID), and $10 for children (12 and under). An additional $3 service fee per ticket is applied at the time of purchase. Group discounts are available for parties of 13 or more. Purchase tickets online at beckcenter.org or call Customer Services at 216.521.2540, ext. 10. Beck Center is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.
Beck Center’s production of Xanadu is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI) and is sponsored by the Ohio Arts Council, and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.
Corinne Henahan studied Journalism and English Literature at Kent State University before coming back to her hometown of Lakewood to raise her family. Corinne has two children in the Lakewood schools, and owns a small business in town that creates and sells merchandise for regional music groups.