Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Some musicals challenge the audience with deep intellectual discourse, moral dilemmas affecting society, or characters with significant psychological issues. Xanadu is not one of those shows. Instead, this light, fun, and humorous musical parody of the cheesy 1980 film brings laughter and a smile to the face of each theatergoer. The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati, has mounted a first-class production of this piece, featuring adroit direction and strong performances.
Xanadu tells the story of a Greek muse named Clio, who, with the aid of her muse sisters, inspires a struggling artist named Sonny in Venice Beach, California in 1980. Clio disguises herself as an Australian named Kira and helps Sonny achieve his dreama roller disco. However, two of the muse sisters are jealous of Clio and conspire to get her in trouble with their father Zeus.
The book for the musical is by Douglas Carter Beane. It follows the basic plot of the film, but adds the subplot of the conniving muse sisters and focuses more on Greek mythology and less on character development (especially of Sonny). Mr. Beane skillfully and lovingly parodies the original Xanadu movie (and its star Olivia Newton-John), as well as the film Clash of the Titans, which shares some characters and came out around the same time. He's also supplied a number of excellent one-liners, and the very funny story moves along at a brisk pace.
The score for the original film included some songs by Jeff Lynne (of Electric Light Orchestra) and others by John Farrar (for Ms. Newton-John). For the musical, all of these songs are retained, and others by both composers ("Evil Woman," "Strange Magic," and "Have You Ever Been Mellow") are added as well. The musical's best songs are the opening "I'm Alive," "Suddenly," "All Over The World," and the title number. Due to the popularity of the soundtrack of the film (which was better received than the actual movie), many of the show's songs are well known to audiences.
For the Carnegie production, hometown favorite Alan Patrick Kenny returns to the tri-state with Xanadu serving as his thesis production toward receiving his Masters in Directing from UCLA. Mr. Kenny instills the piece with a hipness and an aptly fun and playful tone. He stages many moments quite cleverly, has prepared his performers admirably, and makes great use of the performance space, including the aisles and balconies. The choreography by Missy Lay Zimmer is suitable, though sometimes a bit repetitive. Music Director Brian D. Hoffman has prepared his cast well vocally, and Eric Baumgartner capably leads a small pit band.
As Clio/Kira, Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys is perfect. She exudes an effervescent cuteness and has some wonderfully theatrical facial expressions. Ms. Jeffreys' signing is excellent and her acting is natural and nuanced. CCM junior Blaine Krauss does a great job of conveying Sonny's deadpan cluelessness and shows off a splendid singing voice on several numbers. Rick Kramer is known to Cincinnati audiences as a leading actor in many community theater productions over the years. For Xanadu, he plays both Danny Maguire and Zeus. He sings well and has just the right balance of humor and pathos for the roles. Eileen Earnest and Miranda McGee get plenty of laughs as the evil sisters plotting to destroy Clio. The remaining ensemble members each display multi-faceted talents: Blair Bowman, Aubrey Ireland, McKynleigh Abraham (who theatergoers might remember from season one of "The Glee Project"), and Brian Wylie.
Scenic design by Ryan M. Howell is simple, yet effective, and Tim Schmall's lighting is varied and professionally rendered. The costumes by Deb. G Girdler are period appropriate and humorous.
Xanadu is fun and frivolous, but solidly written and entertaining as well. The Carnegie Center production is very good, with special praise for the direction and a strong cast which is a mix of professionals, college students, and seasoned community theater vets. Xanadu continues through August 26, 2012. Visit www.thecarnegie.com or call (859) 957-1940 for tickets or more information.-- Scott Cain