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CLEVELAND
Regional Reviews by David Ritchey

Xanadu
The Palace Theatre

Also see David's review of Emma

Xanadu should have been titled Xanadon't. The production runs about 90 minutes (no intermission) in the Palace Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland.

I must admit that I've never seen the movie. So, the Xanadu story was almost fresh for me. Almost? The story does have familiar echoes. A common earth man falls for a lovely young woman, who is a goddess, a muse. Yes, she hangs out with Zeus and the other mythological gods and muses.

The story deals with Sonny (Max Von Essen), who hangs out (note a lot of characters "hang out" at various places) at Venice Beach, California. He's young, good looking, physically fit and has no sense of where he wants to go in life. He meets Kira (Anika Larsen), who is beautiful, physically fit and skates. That's it—love at first roll across the stage. Now he has a purpose, he wants to open a disco skating rink. The story is set in 1980, so a disco skating rink might have economic possibilities.

Danny (Larry Marshall) owns the building Sonny wants to use for the rink. Kira only has to smile at Danny and he remembers a woman who looked just like Kira. He should have married her, but ... This is a romantic comedy. Hey, kids, let's start a disco-skating rink!

Unfortunately, Kira falls in love with Sonny. Back on Mt. Olympus, Zeus and some of the other divine creatures don't think it's a good idea for someone from Mt. Olympus to fall in love below the clouds. But love wins out and the obvious happens. We get another illegal alien.

One of the highlights of the production is Natasha Yvette Williams who plays Melpomene and Medusa. Cleveland audiences will remember her for playing Mahalia in the play of the same name. I was fortunate to see her play Mammy in Gone With the Wind in London. This is an actress who is looking for that break-out role, which will make her name familiar to all. She's talented enough and skilled enough.

David Gallo (scenic designer) created a Venice Beach with arena seating for the muses and a few audience members. Gallo provides enough room for the action and the large cast.

David Zinn (costume designer) created clothing appropriate for the muses and the earthlings. All of the costumes are stage-worthy—that is, they flow with the performers as they dance, skate and play the show. Zinn created gowns for the muses, business suits for land owners and, of course, cut-offs for Sonny.

Christopher Ashley (director) and cast pay homage to Olivia Newton-John, who played Kira in the movie. At one point a dancer brings an electric fan on stage, directs the fan at Kira and her hair blows in the wind and reminds us of the publicity photograph of ONJ used for the movie Xanadu. At the end, Sonny brings a black leather jacket for Kira to wear (think of Grease.)

What we have is a talented cast and a lackluster script. The music is left over from the 1980s and the plot lacks substance. Yet, the Cleveland audience jumped to its feet at curtain call. It's interesting; the curtain call for Xanadu may be the best part of the show. The choreography is interesting and exciting, the voices can sing louder than the orchestra and the show finally becomes what it should have been all along.

Is this a phase we're going through? Think of the great curtain call (concert) for Mamma Mia!.

Xanadu continues in the Palace Theatre through March 14, 2010. For ticket information, telephone 214-241-6000.

Following the Cleveland run, Xanadu moves to the Music Hall in Dallas, Texas, April 6-8. The tour continues in Sarasota and Naples, Florida and then to Wilmington, DE.

The Palace Theatre
PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland
Xanadu
March 2 14, 2010
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music & Lyrics: Jeff Lynne and John Farrar
Based on the Universal Pictures film with a screenplay by Richard Danus & Marc Rubel
Sonny: Max Von Essen
Thalia/Eros/Cyclops: Kevin Duna
Euterpe/ Thetis: Veronica Kuehn
Erato/Hera: Corbin Reid
Melpomene/Medusa: Natasha Yvette Williams
Calliope/Aphrodite: Annie Golden
Terpsicore/ Young Danny/Hermes/Centaur: Jesse Nager
Clio/Kira: Anika Larsen
Danny Maguire/ Zeus: Larry Marshall
Skater: Amy Goldberger
Specialty Skater: Danny Tankersley
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Palace Theatre at PlayhouseSquare
Ticket information: 214-241-6000.

- David Ritchey



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