Arts » Performing Arts

It's wilder on wheels: Xanadu



You could easily come away from the Queen City Theatre Company production of Xanadu, now at Spirit Square through Oct. 22, with the impression this show has always been off-Broadway in spirit, like Urinetown or Evil Dead. Under the direction of Glenn T. Griffin, the notoriously putrid Olivia Newton-John film, infused with uproarious self-mockery by playwright Douglas Carter Beane in his stage adaptation, has taken on a Roman comedy raunchiness compounded by a fortified dose of East Village cross-dressing sleaze.

The original Xanadu sported true Broadway pretensions, though it played at the diminutive 597-seat Helen Hayes Theatre. Roller-skating distantly echoed that Starlight Express pizzazz, pre-eminently with a Featured Skater. Matinee idol Cheyenne Jackson was rushed in during previews to do Sonny Malone, the spacey Michelangelo of Venice Beach chalk murals; and the Muses, trimmed to seven, were merely classically androgynous when they weren't traditionally feminine.

Griffin isn't nearly as fussy about seeking out prime skating prowess. Only one of the goddesses actually splattered to the floor on opening night, but another reached out repeatedly for stationary objects like a desperate orphan. Joe McCourt gives us far more Valley Boy dopiness as Sonny than I ever saw from Cheyenne, further roughening the ride. Bolder yet, Griffin casts his partner in crime, Kristian Wedolowski, in the dual roles of Calliope and Aphrodite, turning two irritating female personalities into two outrageously repellent cross-dressing coquettes. Wedolowki is one bad female impersonator. And while Iesha Hoffman as Erato and Jenn Quigley as Euterpe are passable as backup vocalists, their shortcomings as soloists become hilariously vivid deep in Act 2 when they serenade Zeus in "Have You Never Been Mellow?"

Lauren Marlowe Segal shows us more cleavage as Clio, Sonny's personal muse, than the chaste Kerry Butler revealed on Broadway, but their journeys through the Newton-John songbook, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, run very parallel. From "Magic" to our ultimate destination, the more vocally challenging "Xanadu," Segal has the Aussie's style nailed. In the guise of Kira, she inspires Sonny to resurrect the long abandoned Xanadu auditorium as a roller disco. Yeah, the Muses didn't have much to work with in 1980.

The course of true love never does run smooth for Sonny and Clio/Kira, initially because goddesses are forbidden by Zeus to fall in love with humans. That prohibition and the prospect of seizing upon the heavenly Xanadu promised by Zeus to Clio are what prompt jealous sister Melponene to curse Clio and Sonny by causing them to fall in love. What Calliope gets out of this is beyond me, but she's enthusiastically on board. With Lisa Smith Bradley malevolently squinting in her fullest melodramatic mode, backed by her high-decibel belting artillery, Mel and Cal make a formidable pair of conspirators.

Danny McGuire, owner of the Xanadu property, is the other obstacle between Sonny and his dreams. Casting triple threat Billy Ensley as Danny — and later, Zeus — Griffin has the luxury of dispensing with the role of Young Danny during the flashback when an old romance with Clio/Tangerine is tapdanced back to life in "Whenever You're Away from Me." Pure Ensley grace here.

Choreography by Robbie Jaeger adroitly avoids catastrophe when we roll with skates, meshing well with musical director Marty Gregory's tangy quintet. Tim Baxter-Ferguson's seedy Parthenon-style set looks like it could actually last a couple of days longer than the run of the show. Costumes by Jamey Varnadore zestfully fulfill Queen City's decadent off-Broadway bent, but don't think they're confined to a bunch of Grecian skirts and an Aphrodite wig. We get visitations from Eros and Hermes in Act 1, plus a wilder bacchanal in Act 2 — with Cyclops, Medusa, and Bacchus himself joining the revels.

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