“Xanadu”: Rolling soon to a theater near you

 
 

My big regret of the summer Broadway season is that I did not see Xanadu when I had the opportunity to get cheap tickets. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to see it; it was simply bad timing. Now it’s the surprise hit of the summer, selling almost 90 percent of the seats and breaking box office records at the Helen Hayes Theatre. A 2008 tour has just been planned and talks are in place to bring the show to London. So I’m not getting cheap tickets anytime soon.

I’m not entirely certain whether to be happy or sad about the show’s success. As I’ve blogged previously, I want Broadway shows to be good. And, as a general rule, Broadway musical versions of ’70s and ’80s music-influenced movies are not good. I saw both Footloose and Urban Cowboy and will follow my mother’s advice to remain quiet if I do not have anything nice to say. And Saturday Night Fever was reputed to be a train wreck. But Xanadu was so wonderfully bad that its sheer campiness gives it more potential.

The New York Times review opens with the question, “Can a musical be simultaneously indefensible and irresistible?” and then answers, “Why, yes it can.” I guess that sums it up pretty well. It’s a show that probably shouldn’t exist but, given that it does, it redeems itself by being a great deal of fun.

Let’s revisit the movie for a moment.

Trying to describe this movie is an exercise in absurdity. Olivia Newton-John plays a muse — one of Zeus’ daughters who inspires men to create. Here she inspires two men, played by Gene Kelly and Michael Beck … to open a roller rink. Michael Beck falls in love with her and she falls in love with him. And Gene Kelly had been inspired by and in love with her in the ’40s. But the course of true love inevitably has its obstacles. At some point along the way, our young lovers turn into animated figures who morph into fish and then birds. And there’s the problem that muses are immortals who aren’t allowed to get involved; their job is to inspire and move on. But Michael Beck (who I thought looked a lot like Andy Gibb in this movie, and I loved Andy Gibb back in the day) gets around this problem by skating through a wall and talking to Zeus. (Mt. Olympus, or whereever he’s supposed to be, looks like a scene out of Tron.) Eventually, all three principals open the roller rink and love prevails. And Gene Kelly does roller disco.

It seems that the musical has embraced and celebrated the movie’s schlock and is essentially one big wink at the audience. It stars Kerry Butler, who’s made her name in campy Broadway shows (Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors ). Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa have been added as two of her snarky sister muses. (Their theme song is “Evil Woman.”) And Jackie Hoffman delivers what I believe has to be the best line in the show, “This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people!”

Nothing I write can top that, so I’ll leave you with the inimitable big roller-skating finale from the movie.


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