Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Xanadu Proves an Unearthly Delight at the Paramount

Elizabeth Stanley and Company
Even if it qualifies as a guilty pleasure, the Broadway stage musical version of Xanadu opened to a small but wildly appreciative opening night audience at Seattle's Paramount. Based on the Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly (!) roller-disco film musical of the early '80s, the stage adaptation with its camp and spoofy book by Douglas Carter Beane, featuring the film's songs by John Farrar and Jeff Lynne plus others (including another Newton-John chart-topper "Have You Never Been Mellow?") is no less a riotous revel in nostalgia for disco-era survivors than the 1970s Broadway redo of No, No, Nanette was for those who came of age in the Roaring twenties.

If the plot of Xanadu was paper thin to begin with, it would have seemed rice paper thin now, but for adapter Beane's cunningly clever commentaries on the original and on the disco era in general. A pretty, very short shorts clad chalk artist Sonny has big dreams (and a pea brain) that seem destined not to come true, leading him to become suicidal. Just in time, Clio, one of the Greek muses Sonny has sketched on a wall in Venice Beach, comes to life (along with her sister muses, two played by men in glam-tacky drag) and lends a hand. She renames herself Kira, accessorizes with leg warmers and roller skates, and even takes on an over-the top Australian accent (the better to sound like Livvy, natch), and insinuates her way into Sonny's life. In a Beane created sub-plot, two of Clio's jealous, witchier sisters Melpomene and Calliope scheme to make Clio and Sonny fall I love, breaking one of their Father Zeus' laws. Meantime, Sonny meets real-estate mogul/former forties era musician Danny Maguire who owns a long abandoned club called Xanadu, which Sonny wants to re-open as an ultimate arts hub with roller-discoing as its centerpiece. Danny is struck by how much Clio/Kira reminds him of his long-lost love from the forties, and if you wonder why, you are a dimmer bulb than Sonny. Is there a happy ending in the mix? Of course, all the more excuse to bring on more disco balls and wildly colorful flashy/trashy eighties outfits designed to a fare thee well by costumer David Zinn.

But the cast's the thing that makes this show really take wing, headed by Broadway regulars Elizabeth Stanley as Clio/Kira and Max von Essen as Sonny. Miss Stanley is a blithe goddess indeed; a masterful comedienne, snappy skater and a scintillating vocalist, imbuing the Newton-John hits like "Magic" with just that. While it would have been fun to see NW native Cheyenne Jackson return to our shores in the role he created, Mr. von Essen is an adept alternative, with a voice that could obviously negotiate far more ambitious music, and an affable way with playing the fool. Best of all, the pair have chemistry for days, and create a warm center at the core of this bon-bon of a show.

Veteran hoofer/singer Larry Marshall as Danny is a joy to behold as his character shakes off his acquired businessman bluster and reveals the stage-struck kid he used to be. He and Stanley (along with sharp ensemble member Jesse Nager as Young Danny) create a show-stopping crowd pleaser with "Whenever You're Away from Me." Natasha Yvette Williams and Annie Golden (remember her from the film of Hair?) are scene-stealing delights as Melpomene and Calliope (and later as Medusa and Aphrodite in an adroit piece of doubling up roles) and both have the kind of rousing voices that made Broadway great. The small but smashingly talented and versatile ensemble are every bit the equal of the principals and really rock on the big title song. A well earned and rousing shout-out is due to the tiny but talented onstage band as well.

David Gallo's deceptively simple set is a technicolor-hued delight, and offers onstage seating for a lucky few audience members who are amply played with and chatted up by the cast, and it is well served by Howell Binkley's splashy lighting design. Flying by Foy is credited for a moment which finds Clio mounting a version of the winged horse Pegasus and becoming airborne.

And airborne is in fact how the tight (90 minute), bright and shiny Xanadu leaves one feeling. It is important for these dour days we're living through, in large part because of its very unimportance and lack of weight, and deep yet unforced desire to entertain, which it unquestionably does.

Xanadu runs through January 24, 2010 at the Paramount Theatre, 901Pine Street, downtown Seattle. For tickets ($20-$60) visit, or Tickets are also available at 877-STG-4TIX or in person at The Paramount Theatre Box Office.

Photo: Carol Rosegg

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.

- David Edward Hughes

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