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Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - July 10, 2007

Xanadu Book by Douglas Carter Beane. Music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. Based on the Unviersal Pictures Film Screenplay by Richard Danus and Marc Rubel. Directed by Christopher Ashley. Choreographed by Dan Knechtges. Music Direction and Arrangements by Eric Stern. Scenic design by David Gallo. Lighting design by Howell Binkley. Costume design bt David Zinn. Sound design by T. Richard Fitzgerald, Carl Casella. Projection design by Zachary Borovay. Wig and hair design by Charles G. Laponte. Cast: Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson, and Tony Roberts. Also starring Jackie Hoffman, Mary Testa, with Curtis Holbrook, Anika Larsen, Kenita Miller, Marty Thomas, André Ward.
Theatre: Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermissions.
Audience: May be inappropriate for 5 and under. Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Schedule: Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm, Sunday at 3 pm.
Ticket price: Orchestra and Mezzanine (Rows A-H) $111.25, Mezzanine (Row J) $51.25, Stage Seating $41.25. Premium Seat Prices $176.25, Friday and Saturday evenings $226.25
Tickets: Telecharge

Kerry Butler and Tony Roberts.
Photo by Paul Kolnik.

What, more self-referentiality? Yes - there's not yet complete escape to be found from the legacy of The Producers, Urinetown, and Off-Broadway's Bat Boy. (Butler, who made a splash in the last and seems comically built for these types of gags, doesn't help dispel comparisons.) Ashley's created a true frat-drag party atmosphere that defuses this somewhat, but the show could well make do with less winking. The better titles of this type use such things sparingly but use them big, and never strictly for their own sake; Xanadu starts wearing out on this after about 30 minutes, which isn't an especially noteworthy record.

Luckily, the show compensates with considerably more talent than it needs, in every department. Dan Knechtges's choreography blends athleticism with camp to surprisingly potent results that capture all the rah-rah enthusiasm one might expect of gymnasts at Mt. Olympus High School. Designers David Gallo (sets), Howell Binkley (lights), and David Zinn (costumes) help carry out that aesthetic, helping the production find a keen balance between seriousness and parody that provide the look and feel it needs without going completely overboard. A gathering of Medusa, a centaur, and a cyclops singing "Have You Never Been Mellow?" in full Clash of the Titans garb is cutting it close, though.

The stage is populated with even crazier personages, especially in shameless scene-stealers Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa, who make a series of uproarious appearances as two ne'er-do-well muses who want only to thwart their sister Kira in her earthly pursuits. It's nice that their oversized comic faces, voices, and mannerisms for once fit into their surroundings instead of jutting away from them. Curtis Holbrook is an electric presence in the few featured dance spots he's been granted (including an especially charming turn as a young Danny, opposite both Roberts and Butler). The rest of the cast, which includes Anika Larsen, Kenita Miller, André Ward, and stunt skater Marty Thomas can't supply all of the spectacle the film's enormous dancing corps did, but is so full of spirit and personality you don't much mind.

Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman.
Photo by Paul Kolnik.

It's less clear that the three leads supply everything required, but they work well enough. Butler is more wryly cute than sex-goddess sultry, but her pinpoint-precise comic timing and agility on those skates (which she wears practically all evening) help her carry the mysterious allure her natural, kid-next-door beauty can't always manage. Roberts has but a fraction of Kelly's dapper charm, making Danny more brittle and less enterprising than would be ideal; nonetheless, he's so amiable onstage, you can even forgive him being wheelless in the finale. Jackson, who replaced the injured James Carpinello in previews, is right at home in his dumb-beefcake role but offers noticeably less spice than his castmates; his general state is one of wide-eyed bemusement, as if neither character nor actor can fully absorb the wonder of it all.

Such feelings are easily understandable. It often seems as though the show will implode long before the integral paper streamers and cavalcades of mirrored balls have come and gone, but through sheer force of will the musical becomes what the movie couldn't: a delightful, smile-forcing summer night out. It's anyone's guess what will happen in August, when the Fringe Festival unleashes on New York its annual bevy of musicals just like this one. But for now, strap on your skates and get rolling - Xanadu has wild entertainment to spare for as long as it's here.

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