Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Pretty Woman: The Musical
Xanadu is the story of the Greek muse 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 dream: a multi-purpose performance space, including a 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. 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 was released around the same time and shares some characters. He also supplies a number of excellent one-liners, as well with some wise points about the importance of the arts.
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). All of these songs are retained for the musical, 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 of a certain age.
Director/choreographer Diane Lala perfectly captures the playful, tongue-in-cheek tone for the piece, and incorporates a number of clever moments throughout. A few of the very funny jokes fail to land as they should, but this could be due to the wearing of masks. Her dances are fun as well, evoking the time period and with praiseworthy use of laugh-inducing poses. There is a great deal of roller skating, which is likewise well choreographed and visually appealing. Ian Axness leads a wonderful sounding band.
As Clio/Kira, Cassie Maurer provides suitable vocals and some fine acting choices, often channeling delivery choices from the Broadway Clio, Kerry Butler. Maurer (along with others in the cast) overcomes the challenge of wearing masks by conveying many non-verbals with her eyes whenever possible. Leo Carmody captures Sonny's deadpan cluelessness and shows off a splendid singing voice on several numbers, especially "Don't Walk Away." Tyler Martin possesses a beautiful voice, which he displays as Danny and Zeus, and has just the right balance of humor and pathos for the roles. Chesney Mitchell and Kassi McMillan get plenty of laughs as the evil sisters plotting to destroy Clio. The remaining ensemble members display many talents and shine in individual moments: Eli Owens, Haley Root, Alloria Frayser, Jamal Stone, Jenna Bienvenue, and Madison Mosley.
The scenic design by Mark Halpin is multi-faceted, with a round performance space surrounded by four Greek columns. The floor is decorated with a late '70s/early '80s design and color palette befitting the period. There is an excellent use of projections to replicate the impressive effect that opens the film. The lighting by Alaina Pizzoferrato contains some inventive effects, and the costumes by Brittannie McKenna Travis pay tribute to both the Broadway production and the film, but with some new ideas skillfully incorporated as well. There were some moments in the execution of the sound design where the band overpowered the vocals at the performance attended.
Xanadu is a fun and frivolous musical, but also a solidly written and entertaining one. CCM's production hits all of the marks, including worthwhile direction, design, and performances, and is a welcome return after the COVID-19 shutdown.
NOTE: Like a number of other local colleges, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music isn't requiring vaccination for theatergoers, but is employing a reduced seating capacity and masking, as well as masking of their performers.
Xanadu runs through October 31, 2021, at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Patricia Corbett Theater, 290 CCM Blvd, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513- 556-4183 or visit ccm.uc.edu/programs/2021/october/xanadu.html.