Sunday, March 10, 2013

Applause! Applause! Review of Xanadu: The Musical at Cultural Arts Playhouse by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Xanadu: The Musical performed at the Cultural Arts Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 3 (2013) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Xanadu: The Musical
Cultural Arts Playhouse (44 Lincoln Avenue, Roslyn Heights, NY)
Reviewed 3/10/13

Xanadu is a musical with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. It is based on the 1980 cult film of the same name, which was inspired by the 1947 Rita Hayworth film Down To Earth, a sequel to the 1941 movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was an adaptation of the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall. Xanadu is the name of the Chinese province where Kubla Khan established his pleasure garden in the poem Kubla Khan, or A Vision In A Dream, A Fragment by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The musical opened on Broadway in 2007 and ran for over 500 performances. It earned an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Drama Desk Award for Best Book. It was also nominated for Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book.

The musical starts with an attempted suicide after Venice Beach chalk artist Sonny Malone, played by David Bryant Johnson, is unhappy with how his sidewalk mural of  the Greek Muses (daughters of Zeus) came out. Just before jumping to his death, Clio, a young perky Muse calling herself Kira, arrives on the scene to give him a reason to live. Quickly inspired, Sonny decides he can convert an auditorium called The Xanadu into a space that can feature live performances, art galleries and "something athletic" such as a roller disco. Kira and some of her muse sisters help decorate The Xanadu while her older sister Melpomene curses her to fall in love with Sonny, which carries the penalty of death. 

Zeus's wives ask him to take pity on Clio and one retells the story of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. All the muses are similarly afflicted so Clio realizes that she, too, is invulnerable, except for her heels, which were protected when she was shot with the arrows of love because she wearing the "mighty legwarmers" making her completely invulnerable. She realized she is truly in love with Sonny, who loves her back. Zeus pardons her and explains what Xanadu is: "True love and the ability to create and share art".

Yes the book is as bad as it sounds and quite a bit worse. The Muses often speak in black Ghetto-talk and Tammy Forward's inconsistent Australian accent in the character of Kira was extremely difficult to listen to. It was never explained why the Muses considered their geographic territory of responsibility to be Los Angeles and Orange County, California or why The Xanadu is like "Children's Theater for 40-year old Gay People". It is also never explained why Clio is considered by Zeus to be more guilty if she was cursed into loving Sonny against her will than she would be if she were truly in love with him, which is strictly forbidden.

Ashley Menard as Melpomene and Jonny Nelson as Thalia were stand-out performers who got my attention every time they appeared on stage. Ms. Menard was perfect as the evil, older, jealous sister and Jonny Nelson had many eclectic roles to play and pulled them all off successfully. It was very hard to believe that Kira/Clio and Sonny Malone were in love. They both appeared to me as immature and incapable of true love. There is no reason offered as to why Clio, after thousands of years, would fall in love with this particular mortal male or why she would give up eternal life to live just one lifetime with him. This is more the fault of how Sonny Malone was portrayed than the fault of Clio. Sonny Malone needed to be played with more sex appeal by David Bryant Johnson. He certainly had the raw materials (good charisma and stage presence) and the voice (I particularly liked his rendition of "Don't Walk Away"). I would re-cast him in the role in a second but he needed to show us why Kira would fall in love with him above all others. Perhaps some roller skating on Venice Beach with his shirt off or some scenes where Kira is drawn into his loving, seductive nature would have fit the bill. Without that, their "love" came across as sterile to me and quite unbelievable.

You will recognize a number of songs in this musical including Magic, Evil Woman, Have You Never Been Mellow and Xanadu. The book for Xanadu: The Musical needs a re-write and can be updated. As it is, it leaves much left to be desired. 

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