Greek mythology meets roller-disco in XANADU, a spirited send-up of American pop culture circa 1980, based on the preposterous movie of the same name starring Olivia Newton-John. Mazeppa’s exuberant production of the award-winning musical-comedy (book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar) delivers an uproarious parody of both disco culture and the cult-classic film. The wacky pan-cultural synthesis merges vintage fashion statements, club music, disco dancing, and roller-skating with the classical Muses and the eponymous capital of Kublai Khan’s Mongol empire–a place of legendary beauty and contentment immortalized in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium-influenced poem (“Kubla Khan: Or, A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment”), quoted in the script.
The outrageous plot is high camp at its highest and campiest. Venice Beach artist Sonny Malone, unhappy with his sidewalk chalk mural of the Muses (the nine ancient demi-goddesses of music, song, and dance, who serve as the source of inspiration for poets), is on the verge of suicide. But high atop Mount Olympus, Clio (the lead Muse of History and Fame) convinces her sister Muses to arise from Sonny’s artwork and inspire him to follow his dream of creating something fabulous: a roller-disco club in an abandoned venue called Xanadu, owned by real estate mogul Danny Maguire. Disguised as a human (as required by Zeus, the father of the gods and of all nine Muses), Clio assumes the name Kira, sports roller skates, leg warmers, and an Australian accent (à la Newton-John!), and gives Sonny the moral support he needs to succeed. But, in violation of the rules of Olympus, Clio is apparently cursed by her envious older siblings Melpomene and Calliope into falling in love with the mortal man and angering their divine father. In a zany subplot featuring a celestial assembly (derived from the 1981 film The Clash of the Titans), Zeus must decide if he should punish his disobedient daughter, or allow Sonny and Kira to follow their hearts and find true Xanadu.
Directed by Rob Henry with a fast-pace and a keen eye and ear for witty details, Mazeppa’s ensemble and design team bring to life all the styles (glittery costumes by Julia Poiesz; colored spotlights by Alyssandra Docherty; and hilarious props by John Bryant, including sequined push brooms, paint brushes, and rollers, and a mirrored disco ball), period slang (“dude,” “awesome,” and “Oh no you di’in’t”), and pop songs, with a score that features such iconic hits as “I’m Alive,” “Magic,” “Suddenly,” “Strange Magic,” “Evil Woman,” “Have You Never Been Mellow,” and “Xanadu” (well played by a live band, with musical direction by Ryan Touhey). Brian Seaman’s runway set design completely transforms the space of Christ Church Neighborhood House into a long roller-disco dance floor, used effectively by choreographer Robert Harris and skating trainer Bill Veltre (with just a few shaky moments, from which the actors quickly recovered).
Among the standouts in the cast are Angela Leone as Melpomene, whose powerful vocals and wicked cackling perfectly define her Muse’s evil machinations, and Paul Weagraff as Maguire, bringing a mature, resonant voice to his greedy, then regretful character. Dylan Geringer (Calliope) makes a sidesplitting appearance as Aphrodite, assuming the Swiss accent of Ursula Andress, who played her in The Clash of the Titans. And Nate Golden (Thalia) and Adam Hoyak (Terpsicore) steal the show as the two “sister Muses” in drag, with absolutely priceless moves and facial expressions, and consistently strong voices. Despite the underlying message to believe in magic and to follow your dream, the show’s true magic lies in its farcical nostalgia and youthful, energetic fun, with which it is chock full. [Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street] July 9-26, 2014; http://mazeppa.org/.
For another perspective, see Kathryn Osenlund’s review here.