Xanadu is a musical comedy with a book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, based on the 1980 cult classic film of the same name which was, in turn, inspired by the 1947 Rita Hayworth film Down to Earth. The title … see full wiki
If you’re familiar with the name “Xanadu” then you likely know it’s the name of one of the worst movies ever made. How bad is this film? So bad that it inspired the Golden Razzberry Awards. It also was the film that signaled the end of roller skating, disco, Olivia-Newton John’s career, AND Gene Kelly’s all at once! The only good things to come with the movie was an animated sequence from Don Bluth (who would use the money to help fund his masterpiece “The Secret of NIMH”), and a pretty good soundtrack from ELO. Well someone decided that taking this box office and critical failure of a movie and turning it into a Broadway musical would be a good idea. Yeah, I don’t get it either folks.
I know that Hollywood can be bankrupt at times, but is life on stage in such bad shape that they have to resort to turning things like “Xanadu” into expensive spectacles? No wonder the slogan for this thing has been "Xanadu: On Broadway...Seriously." Well, for better or worse “Xanadu” is here and...Holy Cow it’s actually not too bad. Oh, don’t get me wrong: The lousy story, cheesy characters, and outdated settings are all here. But the script and pacing has been tweaked a bit in the transition from film to stage. First of all the stage play adds a couple of ELO’s other hit songs to the catalog (most noteworthy being “Evil Woman”). Secondly the script is rewritten to add a few new things but to mainly trim the fat. Third the characters are more exaggerated here then in the film.
Finally (and this may be the key to the shows success) the stage version knows the material is bad and embraces that fact. The movie was odd because it was a bad production but everyone was playing their parts straight, as if they couldn’t see how bad their own scripts were. On stage the actors have a twinkle in their eyes that screams to the audience that they know this is a bad story, and they camp it up for all it’s worth. They sing loudly, act flamboyantly, and they disco as if disco had never left us. The set is filled with camp and lots of colors. Why have one disco ball when you can have fifty on the stage all at once?
Oh yes, I almost forgot: The roller skating is back. Trust me, this sort of gimmick works better on stage then it does on film. Now for how much praise it sounds like I’m giving this show I must point out this isn’t great theater. It’s short, dumb fun. At a brisk 90 minutes with no intermission, “Xanadu” never overstays it’s welcome. It comes, it surprises, it entertains, and it ends leaving you wanting the soundtrack. I don’t know who decided to bring “Xanadu” to stage, but that person was either an evil genius or completely crazy. Judging from the final performance this was created from the mind of an insane man, but thankfully the results are loads of fun. It almost pains me that I have to give something associated with the movie any sort of praise, but that’s life sometimes.
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