There comes a moment in Xanadu-the deliciously campy musical theater confection that is based on the unintentionally campy 1980s movie of the same name-when the Greek muse Calliope suggests that "it's just like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people" (or words to that effect) which perfectly captures the show's charm and unfailing appeal for audiences of every conceivable ilk and for one theater critic, in particular. That the show strikes so close to home for me (and occupies such an unyielding place in my hardened heart) is easily attributable to the fact that it reminds me so much of my own wasted youth.
In fact, Douglas Carter Beane's effervescent book, so abundantly filled with groanable clichés and frank remembrances of the 1980s, never fails to entertain with its artful approach to that much-maligned decade. As a result, no matter how corny or how bad a particular production might be, Xanadu is guaranteed to entertain and to delight.
Thankfully, director Darryl Deason (who, no doubt, has some '80s-styled memories of his own to draw upon for inspiration) delivers a production that is wonderfully over-the-top, in keeping with that whole 1980s milieu of self-absorption and tackiness. His Arts Center of Cannon County cast, who ever so gamely take the stage with a sense of mirth-filled abandon and unbridled zeal, have so much fun in telling the far-fetched story of an ancient Greek demigod coming to Los Angeles at the dawn of the decade of disco, decadence and questionable fashion choices that there is absolutely no way you can't have a whole lot of fun. That the entire cast is on roller skates is like so many cherries on the top of any number of chocolate sundaes feasted upon after partaking of a nickel bag's worth of onstage hijinks and hilarity.
Xanadu focuses on a Greek muse named Clio (played by Maggie Richardson), who descends from Mt. Olympus in order to inspire struggling artist Sonny Malone (Cody Rutledge), who plys his trade on the mean streets of Venice Beach, California. Sonny hopes to achieve his artistic dream of creating his own "Apex of the arts," a place where theater, music, visual art, dance comes together for the greater good to craft something unlike anything the world has ever seen before. Naturally, that means Sonny hopes to open a roller disco.
Bad puns abound in Beane's otherwise razor sharp script, which effectively strips down the artifice of '80s excess to make it more palatable and more relatable by 21st century audiences. Riffing on '80s music, movies, art and design (or the lack thereof) with tongue-in-cheek affection, Beane is able to locate the story's heart and translate it to a musical theater offering that succeeds despite its winking nod to scads of self-referential situations that prove to be rich with laughter.
The show's slightly twisted perspective is ideally suited to the material and one thing remains very clear: No matter how cheesy or how bad the delivery, Xanadu is more fun than a dance-filled, poppers-fueled night at the local disco where you'd sweat and strain while bumping and grinding-and new love affairs would run the course from the moment you got the back of your hand stamped to the early morning moment when you fell head-first into a bowl of potato chips on your bedroom floor. Not that I personally can recall anything like that ever happening to me. Ever. I swear. Seriously, I'm just imagining how it might have been.
Deason directs his nine-person ensemble with confidence, instructing them to break the fourth wall when apropos to more fully engage the audience at ACCC in the onstage hijinks. It works marvelously and the crowd-older than the show's target audience, to be sure, unless they have experienced some really heady nights at the disco themselves in the 1980s-responds to the humor with good spirit, even if they fail to get many of the pop culture references or theatrical in-jokes.
Sure, there's plenty of roller-skating on the ACCC stage, but Deason very craftily makes use of every possible means of conveyance that has wheels that you can think of: Melpomene enters with a walker, Terpsichore is on a low-slung tricycle, Euterpe rides in on a skateboard-well, you get the drift. It's an inspired way to kick off his rollicking tribute to a decade perhaps best left to the fine folks at VH-1.
Leading lady Richardson, who's quite good as Kira/Clio and who acquits herself well with her Olivia Newton-John impression, does double-duty as the show's choreographer and she gives her cohorts some clever dance moves that evoke memories of the 1980s even if she wasn't born until well into the next decade. As Kira/Clio, she's charmingly winsome, casting a knowing glance over her shoulder, as it were, while delivering even the most ridiculous of dialogue with conviction and a straight face.