“Xanadu”

Helen Hayes Theatre, New York • 21 July 2007 • 2pm
Book by Douglas Carter Beane. Music & Lyrics by Jeff Lynne & John Farrar. Based on the Universal Pictures Film Screenplay.

Directed by Christopher Ashley. With Kerry Butler (Clio/Kira), Curtis Holbrook (Sonny [understudy]), Tony Roberts (Danny Maguire/Zeus), Mary Testa (Melpomene/Medusa), Jackie Hoffman (Calliope/Aphrodite)…

Some movies, however bad, can hold a special status in our minds… and that, for me, is very much the case with Xanadu, one of the very first movie musicals I saw in the early 1980s. The film is generally considered as a dud, but it marked Gene Kelly’s last appearance on the silver screen and it boasted a glorious soundtrack which quickly became my most-often played LP. Then the soundtrack was released on CD, and I thought life couldn’t possibly smile more on me. Then the movie came out on DVD, and I thought I couldn’t be luckier. Well, as it turns out, I could. Somebody came up with the crazy idea of turning Xanadu into a Broadway musical… and the outcome is a wildly enjoyable show which seems to have gotten just about everything right.

While the score is virtually intact and reproduces the excitement of the movie’s soundtrack, the book has been infused with a lot of second- and third-degree humour. The short, intermissionless, 90-minute show thus becomes a sort of loving spoof of the movie.

Kerry Butler gives a wonderful performance as Clio, the part played in the movie by Olivia Newton-John. Butler’s portrayal comes complete with a mock Australian drawl and some of Newton-John’s trademark postures. There are also two irresistibly funny performances from Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman. And it is always a treat to see Broadway veteran Tony Roberts (recreating, of course, the role originally played by Gene Kelly).

The leading male part of Sonny is officially played by James Carpinello, but he couldn’t open the show due to an injury during rehearsals. In his absence, the part of Sonny is usually played by Broadway heartthrob Cheyenne Jackson, but “due to a prior commitment,”Jackson is out of the show July 17–26, so the two understudies for the role play the part in turn. I caught Curtis Holbrook, who acquitted himself very nicely. I must admit I would have been curious to see the other understudy, André Ward, a black actor who gives one of the most outrageously outlandish performances in a series of roles that include Terpsicore and a Centaur…

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