Drury Lane’s ‘Xanadu’ a feast for the gods — and you
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org September 14, 2012 12:10PM
When: Through Oct. 28
Where: Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Info: (630) 530-8300; drurylaneoakbrook.com
Updated: October 16, 2012 6:04AM
You’ve really got to hand it to director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell. Somehow, almost miraculously, she has turned “Xanadu,” that disco-driven, winkingly self-aware, “prepare to enter the 1980s” musical — a show one of its very own characters describes as “like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people” — into a deliciously good time.
Never one to talk down to her audience, Rockwell has found the smart, arty heart in this goofy, time-warped comedy which was adapted by Douglas Carter Beane from the pop culture joke of a movie, and features a genre-spanning score by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. She has packed her Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre cast with an assortment of performers bearing power voices, winningly campy neo-vaudeville instincts, and a willingness to test their roller skating skills. And, as usual, she has gotten superb assistance from socko music director Roberta Duchak, conductor-keyboardist Ben Johnson (who shares the orchestra pit with a rocking trio comprised of Evan Rea, Tom Logan and Rich Trelease), and from set designer Kevin Depinet and his projection design cohort, Mike Tutaj.
“Xanadu” is a show in which a gaggle of ancient Greek goddesses from Mount Olympus bump headlong into one decidedly artistically challenged denizen of Venice Beach, Los Angeles. And notions of art, love and inspiration, as well as such challenging matters as mortality and immortality, get tossed into the air.
Sonny (strong-voiced Chris Critelli, who deftly suggests a lack of serious brain matter), is a struggling artist and mural maker whose big dream is to create a multi-disciplinary arts palace and roller disco. Dropping in to serve as his inspiration is Clio (Gina Milo, who sings, acts and dances impressively, whether on two roller skates, a single skate and a bare foot, in heels, or on the back of Pegasus, the flying horse). Clio is one of nine sisters — all muses — and she descends from Olympus to Venice Beach just in time to help Sonny. Of course she disguises herself as Kira, an Australian roller girl.
Kira is inspiring, to be sure. But she also commits the error of falling in love with Sonny (against the immortality rule for a goddess), and of creating art herself, rather than just inspiring the artist. And her jealous older sister and muse of tragedy, Melpomene (Christine Sherrill, the statuesque, clarion-voiced actress with a wicked sense of comic delivery, all but steals the show), intensifies the curse with help from Calliope (larger-than-life Nancy Voigts), the muse of epics.
Adding an additional layer to the story is Danny (Gene Weygandt, in his usual drolly understated form), a wealthy real estate developer who owns the tattered Xanadu theater, a “pleasure palace” he built 35 years earlier, but never opened, because he decided to shelve his artistic dreams in favor of business. In the process he lost HIS muse (who had a striking resemblance to Clio/Kira).
Stephanie Binetti, Tammy Mader (and, yes), Sean Blake and Gary Carlson play the other sister/muses and a variety of other mythic figures, with Robin Childress and Jake Klinkhammer as the two offstage muses who supply the backup singing.
To be sure, no one would ever confuse “Xanadu” with Steven Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George.” Nevertheless, Rockwell, ever the master of detail and sharp perceptiveness, never loses sight of the art-love-immortality link in this deceptively silly musical.