If you think Arts Council funding is complex, imagine trying to create your Gesamtkunstwerk,including a roller disco, in the cultural desert that was 1980s LA. Such is Sonny’s dilemma in Jeff Lynne and John Farrar’s musical adaptation of the cult(ish) movie that famously starred Olivia Newton-John. Fortunately, the Greek muses are on hand to help, making this show so mad, so unbelievebly camp and crazy, that it casts an irrestible spell. Thank the gods that Xanadu is a place director Paul Warwick Griffin has dared to go. Get your skates on and join in.
Bringing the story to the stage is brilliantly done thanks to a superb book by Douglas Carter Beane – surely key to the show’s success in New York, where it started at the Helen Hayes Theatre in 2007. There’s a lot of fun with language, from faux archaic to Aussie accents via Valley girls. Likewise the music, based on blasts from the past, mashes together anything to get a laugh. The songs are surprisingly strong, but then it was the soundtrack rather than the film that was a hit. Cleverly adding comedy and nostaglia, emodied by Nathan M Wright’s witty choreography, this is theatrical heaven on earth.
Donning their roller skates as Sonny and Kira (or rather the muse Clio)are Samuel Edwards and Carly Anderson. Chiffon has seldom been used to such effect (bravo to designer Morgan Large) and while cut-off denim shorts aren’t for all, I doubt anyone will complain about Edwards wearing them. More importantly, both Anderson and Edwards are fine leads with firm comic skills who enter into the spirit of the piece perfectly. Convincingly wide-eyed, with hearts on sequinned sleeves, they get you laughing along easily.
Joined by a superb ensemble, who look as if they’re living the roles of divinities on Earth, the clash with Mount Olympus when our heroes fall in love is titanically funny: a lament that Achilles should have had leg warmers pretty much sums it up. The show’s casting coup is Alison Jiear, as the jealous Melpomene. The muse of tragedy could be out of place in this feel-good phenomenon, but Jiear is superb and matched for laughs by Emily McGougan. As sinister sisters with great gags these partners in crime, giggle and cackling away. When they observe the show is “like children’s theatre for 40-year-old gay guys” you know that they’ve nailed it.
Until 21 November 2016
Photos by Paul Coltas