Sep 23, 2010

[Theater] Xanadu (Atlantis Productions)

Xanadu - Rivera (Atlantis Productions)Hairspray really did something for the musical theater industry when you think about it. It started as a campy 80's movie that had rather moderate success during its initial run. Then it became a hit Broadway musical in 2002 and pretty much turns things on its head. Come 2007, a movie based on the musical was released, thus having things come full circle in a manner of speaking.

This has led to a wide variety of movie-to-musical adaptations like Shrek or to some degree Monty Python's Spamalot and even Legally Blonde. While a there are certainly some gems amongst such translations, naturally not all of them are proving to be as fun and successful as some others. But whether we like it or not, it's something that's here to stay and it can't be as bad as the movie remake trend that's making waves on the West Coast.

So naturally this kind of adaption thinking would eventually lead to more comedic efforts going all the way to self-parody. I feel this particular musical is a great example of that being a musical based on an 80's movie that performed poorly at the box office but remained a cult classic. Then they threw in a bunch of Olivia Newton-John's other songs (ala Mamma Mia!) and tied them all together into one creative work.

Cover of "Xanadu - Magical Musical Editio...Cover via AmazonXanadu was the latest musical production staged by local theater group Atlantis Productions as based on the 2007 Broadway musical. The original 1980 movie barely broke even at the box office at was even nominated 7 Razzies while winning one for Worst Director. So yeah, this was a movie ripe for reinvigoration in a new form. The play more or less follows the original movie plot with some key alterations - and those changes were certainly for the better!

Street artist (instead of an record album poster painter) Sonny Malone (Felix Rivera) is dissatisfied with his work and his lack of inspiring ideas. As he ponders suicide, the Muses up on Mount Olympus, as led by Clio (Rachel Alejandro) discuss plans of helping the humans in Venice Beach, California with their gifts of inspiration. Thus Clio decides to pretend to be a roller-skating mortal with an (annoying) Australian accent named Kira, all of which is witty poke at Oliva Newton-John's own Australian upbringing.

Thus "Kira" goes down to Earth and her powers of inspiration drive Sonny to come up with a unique combination of all the arts and athletic activity in one - a roller disco. Surprisingly, this makes a heck of a lot more sense so far than the movie. Anyway, we segway to a little scene between two of Clio's sister - Melpomene (Chari Arespacochaga), who is the eldest and the muse of tragedy, and Calliope (Yael Alano Pineda), who is the muse of epics. Jealous of the fact that Clio is the leader of the muses despite being the youngest, they conspire to put a curse on Clio to make her fall in love with Sonny, which is forbidden by the gods.

Xanadu Poster Comparison

Naturally, a large part of the success of the play is centered on the strength of the writing of the original music. We have Douglas Carter Beane to thank for the mythologically enhanced story and then Jeff Lynne and John Farrar to thank for the music and lyrics. But credit still has to go to Atlantis Productions and the director of this play, Bobby Garcia, for doing their best to remain true to the original. And I'm not just talking about the poster up there or the costumes - it goes beyond that. Just based on the few Tony Award and YouTube clips I've seen, the cast and crew put together a really good show worthy of the original.

And it's never easy to master Western witty delivery, especially for a play that has such a strong gay spirit in its writing, but the actors did a pretty good job. There were a few misses here and there, but it's hard to tell if that's solely based on their delivery or perhaps the lack of speedy pick-up on the part of the audience (I was with an older group during the performance I watched).

The play was delightfully self-aware given its many barbs and jokes seemingly at its own expense. This meant everything from blaming the departure of the muses from Earth for the loss of creativity in the 80's, obvious comparisons to the original Clash of the Titans and even citing the limitations of duplicate casting. And that's not even counting the obviously gay humor such as Hermes (Glen Llanes) being a really sassy bitch to Kira or even just the fact that two of the muses were guys in drag. And obviously gay ones at that.

At the end of the day, this play is sheer and utter gay CAMP - and it deserves all the capital letters. It got nearly the same level of laughing out loud as I got out of Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Ze Muzikal. Although it wasn't quite the same level and it's hard for me to determine if this was (1) specific to the Xanadu showing we watched, (2) limitations of the cast selected for this Xanadu run or (3) the natural edge something with more local flair has over something from beyond the islands.

The Atlantis staging of Xanadu was a great light fun play that's just the right length of time for some good entertainment. It deserves 4 ridiculous costumes for creatures of mythology out of a possible 5.

While the current run is already over, a repeat performance has been announced for this November. If this sounds like your cup of tea, go get tickets!
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