The stage musical Xanadu is a nutty, tongue-in-cheek romp, a clever adaptation of a REALLY bad 1980 movie musical.
At Weathervane, New York director Gwen Arment leads a hard-working cast of 12 through a highly entertaining show that induces bunches of belly laughs. The six-member ensemble, primarily playing the sisters of lead muse Kira, is working in overdrive with quick costume changes for an array of roles, including ’40s singers, rockers, sirens and other mythological creatures.
The 1980 movie, which featured music by Electric Light Orchestra and John Farrar, starred a blandly beautiful Olivia Newton-John along with Michael Beck and Gene Kelly. In this 2007 stage musical spoof, leading lady Kira is given more to say, including some humorous yet pithy commentary about the arts and the creative spirit within each of us. Newton-John was mostly eye candy with a gorgeous voice, but on the Weathervane stage, actress Rachel Balko’s persona is cuter and a bit bouncier than the original movie character.
The magical, beautiful Kira, who is really the Greek muse Clio from Mount Olympus, descends upon Venice Beach to inspire Sonny, a frustrated chalk artist. Her goal is to help him reach his artistic dreams but she ends up falling in forbidden love with the young artist. At the same time, two of her jealous muse sisters are scheming for her downfall.
In this musical send-up, written by Douglas Carter Beane for the stage, Kira announces that she will assume an Australian persona in a comical nod to Newton-John. Under Arment’s direction, even Balko’s sing-songy way of repeatedly saying “Kira” is takeoff on the ethereal but not well-developed Newton-John character.
The funniest part of Balko’s performance is her obnoxiously exaggerated Australian accent, which pops up in the most jarring way after she’s just sung a tune as prettily as a lark. Balko pulls all of this off while performing in roller skates for most of the show.
The cast got off to a slow start opening night Friday with vocals that weren’t shipshape in the opening number I’m Alive, as the muses come to life from Sonny’s chalk mural. The Weathervane production has some strenuous choreography by Arment, which looked labored in a dance between ensemble member Kevin Lambes and Balko in the big band-inspired number Whenever You’re Away from Me.
The Xanadu movie, although a commercial flop, had five Top 20 hits, including Magic, Xanadu, All Over the World, I’m Alive and Suddenly. The stage production adds two 1975 hits — Electric Light Orchestra’s Evil Woman and John Farrar’s Have You Never Been Mellow? for a catchy pop score that will be bouncing around in your head for days to come.
At Weathervane, three of Kira’s six muse sisters are played by men, so the visuals alone make for some rip-roaring humor.
Chief among the sisters, Patrick Dukeman and Kathy Ashcroft make a wacky, wonderful comedic duo as the evil muses Calliope and Melpomene. They pave the way for the show’s all-around hilarity with their over-the-top performance in the scheming Evil Woman.
Although Balko and leading man Scott Miesse (Sonny) didn’t blend well Friday in their first duet, Suddenly, they redeemed themselves as the show went on. This comedic couple works — she playing it completely straight and he painting a doltish disconnect between the young lovers with Sonny’s many dense lines.
Playing Sonny’s mentor Danny, a ’40s musician turned real estate mogul, is Weathervane newcomer Thomas Baumgardner, who has a beautifully melodious singing voice.
Xanadu, full of comical surprises, is a load of fun to watch as all but two cast members end up performing on roller skates.
The 1980 pop culture and movie references are a hoot, especially with the self-referential comment Kira makes about “the stage adaptation of an inferior cinematic offering.” When Sonny shares his dream of opening a roller disco, her deadpan response is, “How timeless.’’
Xanadu’s humor can stand on its own but audience members who have seen the movie will enjoy it more fully. This musical’s highbrow, formal language of the Greek gods is made all the funnier when the immortals suddenly switch over to irreverent street talk. The comedic timing of these moments is spot-on hilarious.
The musical, which runs about 90 minutes without intermission, contains some mild, PG-type language.
Costume designer Jasen Smith and set designer Alan Scott Ferrall add glitz and glam with blinged-out costuming and a load of disco balls. Audience members can get up close and quite personal with all the fun, with a limited number invited to sit in a semicircular arrangement onstage representing a Greek chorus.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.