Dreams do come true—“Xanadu,” that curious movie musical/box office blunder of the 1980s, is still worthy of our attention. After morphing into a stage musical several years ago, it surprised everyone by becoming one of Broadway’s rockin’ hits. It broke box office records for the stage at the time and somehow managed to warm hearts in the process.
The original film, which starred Olivia Newton-John as a beautiful mythical Greek muse trying to help an L.A. artist’s dreams come, took itself way too seriously. True, there were hit songs like “Magic,” “Suddenly,” “All Over The World” and, of course, “Xanadu,” but on stage, thanks to crafty creative shenanigans of the show’s creators—Douglas Carter Beans (book) and Jeff Lynne and John Farrar (music and lyrics)—camp is taken to a new level. And on roller skates to boot! Fun.
Fortunately, the music of ELO, whose songs were infused in the original film, come along for the ride, too, so now, after a successful Broadway tour, the stunning winner of an Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award, has rolled right into the Bay Area in, perhaps, the most fitting portal of all: The Retro Dome in San Jose.
And the result? Delicious.
True, some could argue that the movie theater-turned performance space, may not have the most roomiest of stages to work with, but the good news is that this “Xanadu,” featuring local players, works. It works well, in fact. The players and the performances are tight, sharp and finessed. As an ensemble, this has to be one of the best gathering of local talent I’ve seen in the area in years. And what a refreshing surprise that is.
For “Xanadu” virgins, sit back and dig this: Down-on-his luck Sonny Malone, an artist, wants to have a pity party for himself. Life just isn’t working out. He’s about to give up on it all, but, you know … thank goodness for a muse with some heart. (Never hurts.) That would be Clio. She and her Greek muse “sisters” break from the netherworld and suddenly Clio decides to morph into a less conspicuous being. She dubs herself Kira, sports some roller skates and leg warmers (hey, this all takes place in the ’80s after all), and sets off to help this Sonny Malone “fulfill his destiny.”
As the story plays out, Sonny wants to revamp an old entertainment palace of sorts and transform it into a place where music and dancing and, yes, roller skating, can all converge harmoniously. (Think roller disco!) He finds an unlikely partner in an older gent, Danny, who—isn’t this curious— failed to have his dreams come true years ago when a muse came to help him. (Was it Clio?)
And the name of the place they want to reboot? Xanadu.
So far, so good. (Ahem). Wait a minute sister …
Make that two. See … two of Clio’s mischievous sisters don’t want her to succeed. (It’s a Daddy thing. Oh, that Zeus!) They concoct an evil plan that could thwart everything. (Everything I tell you!)
And that’s the gist of the tale, more or less. Add in some groovy tunes, rollerskating, and more, and it’s a downright hoot.
So here’s what works marvelously in this “Xanadu”: Sarah Aili. This Equity player simply shines in the lead role. As Kira, she exudes a perfect balance of doe-eyed Olivia Newton-John innocence and has more than enough skill as an actress and singer to know how to now play things over the top. And that’s a fine skill, indeed, especially when you’re at the forefront of a camp musical. Aili brings the appropriate amount of heart to the production, too. Better still, her voice is stellar. In signature songs like “Magic,” “Suddenly” and the title song, especially, she’s right on the mark. She evokes something meaningful from the role. She makes you care. (Not easy to do.) This woman is a gem.
Adam Barry—addictively hunky and a creative force on wheels, too (it’s the thighs)—does fine justice to Sonny Malone. The character was written to be somewhat of a space cadet, but, like Aili, Barry generates a kind of infectious charm you don’t see that often in musical theater. Vocally, he’s a polished performer able to captivate. Kudos.
The rest of the cast sizzles. Melpomene and Calliope (Clio’s sisters) are played with such scrumptious force by Hilary Little and Shannon Guggenheim, you want to eat them up. Yum, ladies, yum. You had me at “Evil Woman.”
(Yes: that ELO song, not in the movie, comes to life here, as do a few others, like ONJ’s “Have You Never Been Mellow.)
The rest of muses are a spunky mix of standout performers. Collectively, this group is a hot, passionate posse. (You can tell they’re having a good time.) Take note of the musical setup, too, in the back of the set—somewhat hidden from the audience. And watch how well all of these performers manage to move about with some grace on stage.
Heads up: The finale is a knock-out.
Bottom line: “Xanadu” is a breath of fresh air. In an era when a little (real) diversion can go a long way, “Xanadu” rolls humorously with breakneck speed and panache.
“Xanadu” plays at the Retro Dome, at 1694 Saratoga Ave in San Jose, Calif. 95129 (at the corner of Saratoga Avenue and Prospect Road). Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays at 2pm. Tickets ($44) can be purchased online at www.theretrodome.com or by calling (408) 404-7711. Box Office window is open Tuesday through Friday from 1-4 p.m. and 90 minutes prior to showtime.