Monday, May 28, 2007

"Let This Be Known As The Year Inspiration Left The Arts"

"Xanadu" at the Helen Hayes Theatre, May 25, 2007

A large circular mirror overhangs the stage as you enter the theatre, hopefully foretelling of Busby Berkely-like singing and dancing to come. Will hopes be fulfilled or dashed??

Actually, a little of both, courtesy of 1980.

The latest in a string of movie to stage adaptations, Xanadu arrives with no pretense as to what it is and what it is not. If you're ever unsure as you watch, just wait a few minutes and someone in the cast will remind you with a line like, "Even though I was suicidal seven minutes ago, I think I can create the apex of the arts!"

The creative team has insisted that all they took from the 1980 movie with Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, and Michael Beck was just the premise and the songs. As miserable a film as it was, they seem to have kept quite a lot from the thin and poorly designed plot. Still in 1980, Sonny Malone (James Carpinello) is a failing artist, stopped from suicide by the Greek Muse, Clio (Kerri Butler) who renames herself Kira-from-Australia. Sonny discovers an empty theatre called Xanadu, which was built 40 years earlier (but never used) by Danny Maguire (Tony Roberts) when Clio visited him under the name of Tangerine (a missed musical opportunity, by the way). Since the Muses' purpose is only to inspire artists, they are forbidden to create art themselves or fall in love with a mortal, punishment for which is death. Naturally, Clio/Kira does both during the course of the evening. Her evil and older sisters, Melpomene (Mary Testa) and Calliope (Jackie Hoffman) are bitter about their younger sister being head Muse and plot against Clio using a love potion (think Cinderella, and yes, she does lose a skate at one point when she realizes she's fallen in love with Sonny and runs away from him). Of course, it's still a musical comedy and everyone lives happily ever after.

As Clio/Kira, Kerri Butler delivers a delightful knock-off of Olivia Newton-John's breathless singing, with a nice Australian accent to boot. Given what's playing around the corner at the Palace, they might have called this show "Heavenly Blonde" but for the confusion it might cause. She's almost comfortable performing the entire show on roller skates, which should not be an issue by the time opening night rolls around (as it were!). Her Clio/Kira ("call me Kira, 'cause that's my name!") is just a little on the ditsy side, making it easier to pull off as the anachronisms and camp are doled out by the handful.

James Carpinello's Sonny seems to have spent a LOT of time in Queens instead of Los Angeles. More than once, I heard line deliveries a la disco-boy Tony Manero, rather than artist-boy Sonny Malone. He gives an earnest performance, but doesn't quite manage the polish that Ms. Butler delivers opposite him.

There's one scene when Clio has returned to Mt Olympus to face her father Zeus for her actions (making art and falling in love with a mortal) that points up whyTony Roberts must have taken the role of Danny Maguire. Sonny shows up, having followed Clio, and points out that the scene looks just like one from "Clash of the Titans" with Lawrence Olivier as Zeus, Maggie Smith as Thetis, Ursula Andress as Aphrodite and Claire Bloom as Hera. (In this go-round, Mr. Roberts is Zeus - didn't get any Olivier from him, and Jackie Hoffman's Ursula Andress-Aphrodite sounded a bit like the Governator - funny though. Only Anika Larsen's Thetis came close to Miss Smith.) He asks them (paraphrasing) "What were you guys thinking? In a crap movie like that - just playing it for the paycheck?" Wasted in this role of Danny Maguire, I can't help wondering the same thing for Mr. Roberts. He doesn't have much to do, and that which he does isn't written very well.

The evil Muses: Mary Testa as Melpomene (who was mother of the Sirens - "My daughters, the sirens? They never call!") and Jackie Hoffman as Calliope ("I'm not wearing a bra.") camp it up and have a grand time, particularly during their rendition of "Evil Woman" backed up by the sirens with black ostrich-plume fans (Chicago, anyone?).

Musically, the show is firmly entrenched in the world of the Electric Light Orchestra from the movie soundtrack. Some songs have been added (the afore-mentioned "Evil Woman") along with "Strange Magic," "Fool," and "Have You Never Been Mellow." I was a bit disappointed in the "Dancin' " segment. Of the songs from the original movie, this was one that would seem to have offered an opportunity for a really impressive number with the mix of the 1940's style from Danny's memory, to Sonny's vision for the 1980's "Apex of the Arts" roller disco. Curtis Holbrook, dancing as a Young Danny in a flashback with Clio/Tangerine shows some superior tap skill, which could have been called on again for the "Dancin' " number that followed.

Douglas Carter Beane has beaten my fellow blogger Gil at Broadway Abridged to the punch with his book. Just check out his latest abridged show to see what I mean. Dan Knechtges' choreography drags the audience back to the days of "Solid Gold" from the outset. Some performers are more comfortable than others on roller skates, but repetition in previews will iron out any remaining wrinkles there. David Gallo's rink set evokes both a LA setting as well as lending itself to the Greek themes that periodically arise. Howell Binkley's lights complement nicely. I did wonder why the projection (using the circular mirror) of Sonny's chalk drawing of the Muses in the opening was upside down to the audience, though - difficult to recognize and connect the Muses to the actors when they enter in the opening number. David Zinn seems to have had a grand time creating the melange of Greek and 1980s revival costumes.

In the end, it's great fun and camp, but it still seems like it would be better suited in an Off-Broadway setting.

1 comment:

KC said...

Revivals. Revivals of revivals. Adaptations of things better left alone. Swaps between The West End and The Great White Way...

Can someone please come up with something new? Anyone?