note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
The title “Xanadu” doesn’t conjure up images of its definition, an idyllic, exotic, or beautiful place, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge described in his poem, “Kubla Khan”. Most people remember the 1980 musical movie flop starring Olivia Newton John and Gene Kelly, which was declared an all-time Tinseltown disaster. The film was loosely based on the 1947 fantasy movie, “Down to Earth,” starring glamorous Rita Hayworth and singer-actor Larry Parks.
Nothing could save the movie from critics and audiences’ disdain, even though Jeff Lynne (of the Electric Light Orchestra) and John Ferrar’s musical score won global acclaim, with songs like the title tune, and “I’m Alive,” “Suddenly,” “Whenever You’re Away From Me,” “Don’t Walk Away,” “Dancin,’” and mega-hits, “Have You Never Been Mellow,” “Evil Woman,” “Magic,” and “All Over the World”.
Multi-award winning playwright Douglas Carter Beane was asked several times to re-write and stage the musical. He relented in 2007 and given carte-blanche to revive “Xanadu”. He scrapped the original script, excluding a few lines, kept the musical score, and created a hilarious spoof, poking fun at the movie. Beane’s fabulous, fantasy musical won Outer Critics and Drama Desk awards, earned four Tony nominations, and continues to charm audiences with its wacky. rollicking, 90 minutes of fun and frolic. “Xanadu” features a lovely Greek muse who is disguised as an Australian and descends to Earth to help a struggling artist open his dream roller disco on Venice Beach, Calif. in 1980. At the end, Beane creates a new definition of Xanadu --- to be in love and create art.
SpeakEasy Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault and his Boston star-studded cast and crew go above and beyond --- in the rafters, among the audience --- in this interactive farce, directly addressing individuals seated nearby, then urging theatergoers to dance with them in the finale.
Gail Astrid Buckley’s costumes fabulously straddle Californians’ gym shirts, shorts and legwarmers, mythological celestial muses’ togas, and a silvery pegasus that streaks across the sky - uh, stage.
Star McCaela Donovan portraying pretty muse Clio and her down-to-earth, Australian accented counterpart, Kira, tosses glitter as she roller skates and glides around, spreading love and inspiration with a little bit of magic, to help dim, suicidal, down-and-out street artist, Sonny Malone achieve his dream. Rising star Ryan Overberg, a senior at Boston Conservatory, creates his own magic with his muscular frame, boyish good looks, and comedic timing, while singing, dancing, and skating with Donovan and in soaring solos amid this superlative cast.
Surprises abound here. Elegant performer Shana Dirik (portraying Melpomene and Medusa) and versatile, petite veteran Kathy St. George (Calliope and Aphrodite) unleash their comedic sides as they jealously plot against Zeus’ favorite daughter, Clio. They sprinkle their own magic to enchant Clio into committing the forbidden act of falling in love with a mortal.
And what could be better than award-winning actor Robert Saoud aping away as developer-wannabe club owner Danny Maguire, then commanding the goddesses on Mt. Olympus as the formidable Zeus?
Actor Cheo Bourne is hysterical in multiple female roles, as he and his fellow muses, Patrick Connolly, Val Sullivan and eternally charming Kami Rushell Smith riotously frolic around. Karen Perlow’s lighting and Aaron Mack’s sounds swiftly shift between heaven and earth, while Music Director Nicholas James Connell and his fantastic four musicians are sublime throughout.
Near the end, theatergoers are instructed to wave fluorescent glowsticks. But they’re not the only things glowing at SpeakEasy.
BOX INFO: Boston premiere of one-act, 90-minute musical comedy by Douglas Carter Beane, presented with SpeakEasy Stage Company through June 9: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; also, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Roberts Studio Theatre, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Tickets start at $30; seniors, $5 off; under 25, $25; student rush, $14 with valid college ID an hour before show, if available. Call the Box Office at 617-933-8600 or visit www.BostonTheatreScene.com.