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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Xanadu
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Gil's review of Gypsy


Liz Fallon and Sal Pavia (front);
Renée Kathleen Koher and Julie Galorenzo (back)

Photo by Scott Samplin
The past two decades have seen dozens of Broadway musicals based on films as well as many jukebox musicals that feature songs associated with a musical artist or group. The romantic musical comedy Xanadu is a combination of both, as it's based on the 1980 flop movie musical but also features additional songs from the film's star Olivia Newton-John and the band that supplied many songs for the movie, Electric Light Orchestra. While the end result may fall far short of Mamma Mia!, the hugely successful jukebox musical that also features popular songs from that period, and some audience members may not quite get that it's a spoof, Xanadu is campy fun with a dozen familiar tunes and a huge amount of charm. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production features a talented cast who all have lovely vocals and good comic skills that make this a fun and silly romp.

Xanadu tells the story of a down on his luck artist named Sonny and the muse Clio, who has come to Earth from Mount Olympus with her sisters to inspire Sonny to create greatness. Urged on by Clio, who dons legwarmers and roller skates and sports an Australian accent to disguise herself, Sonny comes up with the idea to combine music, dance, painting and athletics into the ultimate symbol of 1980s artistic greatness: a roller disco. However, Sonny discovers that the abandoned theatre he thinks would be great to turn into the roller disco is owned by a shrewd, older businessman named Danny who isn't too keen on just handing it over to Sonny. It also turns out that Danny has a strange past connection to Clio. Another obstacle is the curse that Clio's two jealous sisters place on her to fall in love with the mortal Sonny, which is forbidden by their father Zeus and could result in Clio's banishment from Mount Olympus or, even worse, her death.

The musical features all of the hit songs from the movie, including "Magic," "Suddenly," and "I'm Alive," along with the title tune as well as other ELO songs like "Evil Woman," plus the huge Newton-John hit, "Have You Never Been Mellow." While the plot follows the screenplay somewhat, Douglas Carter Beane added additional elements that poke fun at the '80s, Greek mythology, and even the trend to turn movies into stage musicals. The jokes fly fast, though not all of them quite land, and the story moves along briskly while the songs are all incorporated fairly well to flow naturally from the characters thoughts and actions.

While there are a few moments when the show drags and the plot, while simple, has some holes and a quick conclusion, director and choreographer Courtney Laine Self and her gifted cast have a firm grasp of the silly, comic nature of the piece. Self adds plenty of fun '80s steps to the show, along with some humorously staged disco roller-skating maneuvers.

Sal Pavia and Liz Fallon make a fun couple as Sonny and Clio. They both have warm, bright and clear singing voices that deliver gorgeous versions of familiar pop-rock songs. Fallon does a fairly good impression of Newton-John's Australian accent, while Pavia is very good as the charming yet slightly daft and goofy young artist. Bill Saunders does well as Danny, with some touching line deliveries in his flashback scene and a firm grasp on the insanity of the other character he plays, Zeus. Julie Galorenzo and Renée Kathleen Koher are comic gold as Clio's two scheming sisters. They both chew as much scenery as possible, get big laughs, and deliver soaring vocals, especially in their hilarious duet, "Evil Woman." All of the main cast members have good comic timing, which helps get big laughs from Beane's inspired dialogue, and the ensemble look like they are having a blast.

Mark 4Man's exceptional music direction derives superb harmonies from the cast and a perfect pop-rock sound from the four-piece band. The scenic design by Joseph C. Klug, while static, is quite effective in creating a large playing space to depict the Venice beach where the story begins, the stage of the run-down theatre, and the court in Mount Olympus. Matthew Solomon's costumes humorously present the worst of '80s fashions along with some humorous Greek mythical character designs in the second act. The lighting design by Elisheva S. Siegel uses a rainbow of ever-changing colors and shadows to effectively add dimension and variety to the various locations in the plot.

With some of the biggest hit pop songs from the 1980s, Xanadu has a phenomenal score of well-known ballads and love songs. While it is a silly show with a very silly plot, it has charm in spades and several laugh out loud moments. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but with a great cast and inspired creative aspects, Arizona Broadway Theatre's production sure makes for an infectious and humorous affair.

Xanadu, through September 29, 2019, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.

Direction and Choreography: Courtney Laine Self
Music Direction: Mark 4Man
Scenic Design: Joseph C. Klug
Lighting Design: Elisheva S. Siegel
Costume Design: Matthew Solomon
Wig Design: Amanda Gran
Sound Design: Connor Adams
Stage Manager: Ethan Hoover
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast:
Sonny Malone: Sal Pavia*
Clio/Kira: Liz Fallon
Melpomene/Medusa: Julie Galorenzo
Danny Maguire/Zeus: Bill Saunders
Calliope/Aphrodite: Renée Kathleen Koher
Thalia: Brian Graziani
Terpsichore: Nicholas Kuhn
Euterpe: Hannah Clarke Levine
Erato: Erika Wasko
Ensemble: Danny Durr, Caleb Summers

* Appears courtesy Actors' Equity Association


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