The stage version of the musical Xanadu now playing at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is heavy on the cheese, resulting in a carefree, fun time. So, if you are looking to kick back, laugh, and be entertained, Xanadu is a perfect option.
For the unindoctrinated, the film Xanadu was regarded as being so bad that it was the inspiration for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards, which honor the worst in cinema each year.
Starring Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, and Gene Kelly in his final film role, Xanadu was a critical and commercial flop as a movie. It was nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Song in the initial Golden Raspberry Awards.
BORN TO BE BAD
The one redeeming factor for Xanadu, critics argued, was the soundtrack. It features several hit songs including Magic by Newton-John, Xanadu and Suddenly by Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra, and All Over the World and I’m Alive by Electric Light Orchestra.
As time passed, however, something strange happened. Xanadu started to gain a cult following. Inspired at first by the catchy music, but then gravitating to the exceedingly “so bad it’s good” script – fans of all ages started to show interest in the musical catastrophe.
In 2001, an unauthorized stage adaptation called Xanadu Live! popped up in Los Angeles. In that staging, actors recreated the film’s dramatic scenes and then lip synced to the soundtrack. While this production didn’t inspire much of a blimp in the grand scheme of entertainment, it did pave the way for producers to begin contemplating a full stage adaptation.
In 2007 Xanadu premiered on Broadway featuring Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson, and Tony Roberts in the starring roles. Featuring music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, it received generally favorable reviews and closed in 2008, at one point featuring Whoopie Goldberg in a guest spot as one of the show’s villains.
Basing a Broadway musical on one of the worst films ever made is not necessarily a guaranteed recipe for success. In fact, book writer Douglas Carter Beane even has the characters of the show address how horrible the source material is within the dialogue.
IN ON THE JOKE
Surprisingly, however, the Broadway adaptation of Xanadu was nominated for numerous Tony and Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical. Shockingly, it even won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical.
Under the skilled direction of Kevin Wiczer, the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre production of Xanadu does all it can to be a success. Wiczer has packed the show with outstanding performers and choreographer Kristine Burdi has outdone herself giving the actors the moves they need to delight the audience.
Xanadu does not have much in terms of plot. Clio is one of seven Greek Muse sisters. She travels to 1980 Venice Beach, California to serve as the artistic inspiration for a sidewalk artist named Sonny. The somewhat clueless, but very loveable, young man decides his ultimate artistic vision will be to open a roller disco – which causes Clio (using the alias Kira) to fall in love with him.
The entire script of Xanadu is one element of comic relief after another. Clio’s six sisters (including a few sisterly men) are hilarity waiting to happen each time they enter a scene. And while the songs are mostly 80’s mindless fluff, like the show itself they are fun and the cast is chock full of incredible singers.
Since there isn’t much plot, the musical numbers are the primary focus of the Xanadu. Music director Kenny McMullen has done an excellent job making each song stand out. Further, the choreography by Burdi is incredibly creative. Burdi is a master at creating dance moves that spotlight each performer’s best attributes. Oh yeah – and much of it is on roller skates!
SHINING IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Among the cast, Sophia Mae Brenner is a delight as Clio/Kira. She has an amazing voice, fantastic dance moves, stellar acting chops, and skates like she was born to do it. Brennar is the epitome of the young ingenue.
As Sonny, Ty Schirmer has the ‘goofy but loveable’ vibe down pat. He has a fun and affable charisma that wins the audience over instantly. He is a strong singer and dancer as well. His entire performance is delightful.
In the supporting cast, Kyle Patrick stands out as Clio’s sister Terpseicore – the goddess of dance. And what a dancer Patrick is! With Hollywood good looks, and great singing, dancing, and acting talents, Kyle Patrick is set to conquer the musical theater world.
Elenia Dokos and Joey Prette pull out all the stops as the comical villains of the story – sisters Melpomene and Calliope, respectively. Dokos has a big voice and instills that same grandiosity into her character to the delight of the audience. She is a whirlwind of talent. I loved her from start to finish. Prette is every bit as fun.
The other sisters are played by J. Christian Hill, Kayla Joyner, and Morgan Schoenecker. They are all impressive both individually and as a part of the overall ensemble. Hill’s tap dancing is a highlight of the show.
Tony Calzaretta is a stage veteran who has been entertaining local audiences for decades. Making his Metropolis debut as Danny Maguire, Calzaretta shows off the fine voice he has gained a reputation for over the years. Most impressive, he shows that he can still keep in step with any 20-something dancers out there. He does a wonderful job filling the shoes of the late Gene Kelly.
The set design by Shane Cinal is simple but impressive and suits Wiczer’s directorial choices with aplomb. Costumes by Rachel Parent are for the most part impressive, particularly the centaur late in the show. Make-up, wigs, and hair are creatively done by Alice Salazar.
The Sound design by Daniel Etti-Williams and the lighting design by Alexa Wiljanen are well done. The influences of dramaturg Linda Scheufler and dialect coach Sarah Nofs Snyder make notable impacts.
Xanadu plays Thursday through Sunday evenings through August 13th, with Saturday and Sunday matinees. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is located at 111 W. Campbell Street in Arlington Heights, IL. The theater is easily accessible by car and public transportation. There is a nearby city garage with free parking.
Kevein Wiczer’s Xanadu at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is all about having fun. It highlights the fun music and sets it to entertaining dance and roller-skating choreography. The actors are clearly having fun and the audience is invited along for the ride – and what a fun ride it is!
For tickets call the box office at (847) 577-2121 or visit www.metropolisarts.com.
Photo credit: Jennifer Heim
Another great show to put on your calendar is THE PRINCESS STRIKES BACK. This hit touring comedy is coming to Chicago for two performances. I highly recommend you catch at least one!
The Princess Strikes Back answers that question in a way everyone can relate to. It will make you smile until your cheeks burn and laugh like you haven’t laughed in years.
Coming to Chicago’s North Shore at the historic Skokie Theatre on Friday August 11 and Friday August 18,
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
For more reviews visit: Theatre in Chicago – your source for What’s on Stage in the Chicago Area
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