Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Lonely Planet
The notoriously witty Beane took the plot of the 1980 moviestarring Olivia Newton-John as an ancient Greek muse with an Australian accent, Michael Beck as the goofy California artist she inspires, and the legendary Gene Kelly bringing class to his scenes as a real estate developer reinvigorated by the museand turned it into a daffy, self-referential delight. Director-choreographer Matthew Gardiner, an up-for-everything cast, and an inspired design team add to the comic enchantment.
In Venice Beach, California, in 1980, the muse Clio (Erin Weaver) and her sisters appear from a chalk mural drawn by insecure artist Sonny Malone (Charlie Brady). Clio decides that she will inspire Sonny to create a historic synthesis of the artsspoiler alert: it's a roller discobut first she disguises herself in roller skates and pink legwarmers and presents herself as a mortal named Kira. Together they discover an abandoned theater named "Xanadu" and convince its owner, hard-nosed Danny Maguire (Harry A. Winter), to let them take it over.
But two of the other muses, the waspish Calliope (Sherri L. Edelen) and Melpomene (Nova Y. Payton), are jealous that their father Zeus (Winter in a silly wig) always liked Clio best. They scheme to destroy Clio by placing a love spell between her and Sonny; since muses are forbidden to love mortals, they believe, Zeus will expel Clio from Mount Olympus. That's the closest thing to dramatic tension in this work of theatrical cotton candy.
The score consists of songs by two different rock songwriters: Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra ("I'm Alive," "Evil Woman," "All Over the World") and John Farrar, a frequent collaborator with Newton-John ("Magic," "Suddenly," "Have You Never Been Mellow"). The scenes with Danny add a touch of 1940s spirit, specifically a number where an Andrews Sisters-style trio interplays with 1980s rockers.
Much of the joy in Xanadu comes from the quality of the production. Gardiner, whose last directing job at Signature was the intense college drama Really Really, offers both buoyant choreography and staging that never seems to slow down. Weaver, Edelen, and Payton have all received Helen Hayes Awards, while Brady makes Sonny an adorable lummoxagain, tougher than it seems. And Kathleen Geldard's wildly imaginative costumes, Chris Lee's disco-inspired lighting, and Misha Kachman's scenic design (Too many disco balls? No such thing!) enhance the joy and silliness.