A pair of fresh faces combined with familiar talent are just a few of the magical ingredients that make Watertower Theatre’s new production of the musical "Xanadu" the most fun that can be found in a metroplex theater this summer.
Go ahead and roll your eyes. Snicker if you must. Those are plausible responses when presented with the notion of a stage musical based on the mega-bomb 1980 film "Xanadu," which tried to capture some of the white-hot post-"Grease" fame of Olivia Newton-John. The film "Xanadu" guaranteed the end of ONJ’s movie career, but the "Xanadu" album was a huge smash with hits by ONJ and ELO like "Magic," "Suddenly," "All Over The World" and of course the title song. As the years past, the "Xanadu" film gained a "so bad it’s good" cult following forever capturing on screen the big feathery hair, parachute pants, headbands and legwarmers of the early ’80s.
In 2007 "Xanadu" the stage musical appeared on Broadway with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek. A genuine sleeper, "Xanadu" became a modest hit, scored a few Tony nominations and received a national tour (which played in Dallas in 2010 at the Music Hall at Fair Park.) It is this production, directed by Robert Bartley and choreographed by Jacob Brent that is producing grins and belly laughs at the Watertower Theatre.
Douglas Carter Beane wrote the book for the stage "Xanadu" and developed a Grecian family tree plot (a plot!) that he layered over the film’s bandana thin story about a Greek Muse who inspires a painter to open a roller disco. In the stage adaptation the Muse Clio descends to Earth to inspire painter Sonny.
But Clio comes in disguise; she calls herself Kira, wears roller skates and legwarmers and speaks in an Australian accent. Meanwhile, Clio’s sister-Muses Melpomene and Calliope conspire to cast a Muse prohibited love spell on Kira and Sonny in order for Melpomene to win Zeus’ favor.
The very elements that made the film so unintentionally funny are skewered in the stage "Xanadu" including an ingenious hidden in plain sight plot twist and the funniest sight gag I’ve seen in years. Every line is delivered with a wink, and every move is made with a nudge of an elbow.
California girl Brittany Danielle shines as Clio/Kira boasting great vocals, inspired comedic timing and effortless roller-skating. Sean McGee, fairly new to Dallas stages, puts an awesome-dude spin on the artist with a roller dream. Dallas theater vets including Thomas Renner, Darius-Anthony Robinson and Bradley Campbell populate the cast playing several roles. Stacia Malone is a hoot as Calliope. And appropriately enough, Dallas theater goddess Liz Mikel delivers a riotous priceless turn as the vengeful Muse Melpomene.
Watertower’s "Xanadu" would have benefited by eliminating the intermission (as the Broadway production did). And the show’s hit songs sound a bit hollow when performed by only a four-piece band. But I’m nitpicking now. Don’t miss this whimsically zany production that will be well remembered years from now.