New York City Theater
Helen Hayes Theater
Though intermittently entertaining, “Xanadu” is eventually as annoying and wearying to sit through as being a chaperone at a sophomore hop. It takes off from one of filmdom’s all-time floperoos, the 1980 movie that put the kibosh on the career of Olivia Newton-John and perhaps not so figuratively killed Gene Kelly (it was his last film). Since no way could the material be done straight, librettist Douglas Carter Beane spoofs not only the film but musicals in general.
Thus we get self-referential lines like, "The theater? They'll just take some stinkeroo movie or some songwriter's catalogue, throw it on a stage and call it a show." Of course, that’s just what’s been done here, although with some flair and an excellent score by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar that includes tunes from the movie.
In outline, the plot concerns the Greek Muse Clio and her eight sisters (here cut to five, including two men) who mistake Venice, Calif. for Venice, Italy. They’ve come to earth to help a (what else?) struggling artist named Sonny whose dream is to open a roller disco.
The lead Muse, Clio (played with giddy abandon and keen wit by Kerry Butler) falls in love with dim Sonny (a hunky Cheyenne Jackson), a no-no among the gods. Betrayed by two jealous Muses (outrageously camped by Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman), Clio’s fate is eventually decided by Zeus (the game Tony Roberts) and all ends with a whir of roller skating antics. (Movie buffs may recognize the plot as a take-off from a Rita Hayworth vehicle, “Down to Earth.”)
Christopher Ashley’s direction is robust and Dan Knechtges’ choreography is purposely, and agreeably tacky, especially for the first number, “I’m Alive.” Still, as cheerful as the gags sometimes are (“We share responsibilities and argue a lot, just like being married – without the good part”), they’re not enough to sustain even 90 intermissionless minutes.
David A. Rosenberg
June 22, 2007