Stage Review: Xanadu

“Children’s theater for gay people!” isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

The touring production of Xanadu opened in Seattle on Tuesday night—too late to be reviewed in this week's print edition. And it's only here until Sunday—which means a review in next week's paper would be useless. The solution: I drove to Portland and saw it at Keller Auditorium this past weekend.Adapted from the cult film starring Olivia Newton-John, Xanadu the musical is an unabashedly, self-consciously cheesy production packed with glitter, Spandex, and roller skates. (It also bears a striking resemblance to an American Apparel ad.) The premise is stupid: It's the year 1980. A muse named Clio (Elizabeth Stanley) has been sent from Mount Olympus to Los Angeles to inspire Sonny (Max Von Essen), a struggling artist on the verge of suicide. Sonny mustn't know her true identity, so she tells him that her name is Kira and she's from Australia. Time spent with a blonde babe rocking a phony accent does Sonny good. He realizes his dream is to open the world's first roller disco, and they set to work making it a reality. The operation is running smoothly until the two fall in love—the ultimate no-no in god/mortal relations, according to Zeus. "You make me feel so invincible. I feel like I could go into downtown L.A. without a weapon!" Sonny gushes to an equally smitten Kira. (Oy. Zeus may be onto something.)The cast has a wealth of silly material to work with, and it's obvious they're having a blast. But sometimes their delight crosses the line into overeager and, well, annoying. Stanley sounds so much like Newton-John when she sings that it's as if she's lip-synching. Sure, it's impressive. But if I wanted to hear Olivia Newton-John, I would just rent the Xanadu DVD. Von Essen, whose struggling-artist character is also a beach bum, should channel his inner surfer dude when he delivers lines like "Don't harsh my mellow." But instead he talks like Ben Stiller in Zoolander. That's a lot weirder than it is funny.The audience still dug the damn thing. They laughed at the corny one-liners. They sang along to Newton-John hits "Magic" and "Have You Never Been Mellow," as well as Electric Light Orchestra classics "Strange Magic" and "Evil Woman." They waved their glow sticks with gusto—yes, they had glow sticks—during the production's final dance/roller-skate sequence. "It's like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people!" one of the cast members quipped as she skated across the stage. Much of the crowd responded with cheers. I didn't. I felt as though I'd been force-fed a dozen fried Twinkies during the evening. But like Xanadu, that's something that plenty of people would consider not torture, but a treat.

 
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