If Xanadu, the much-maligned 1980 film, still hangs in your memory like one of the era’s ubiquitous disco balls, roll on over to West Boca and catch Slow Burn Theatre’s production.
Poking fun at the namesake movie’s silliness and its own, the convergence of camp and classical here will banish that annoyance, a frothy antidote to summer doldrums.
The Greek muse Olivia Newton-John, er, Clio, springs not from the head of Zeus, but from the Venice Beach chalk mural of mopey, down-on-his-luck artist Sonny Malone (Rick Pena). She’s got all her sisters with her, allowing for some gender-bending (Conor Walton and Jerel Brown are two of the nine muses), who she’s convinced to come down from Mount Olympus and help her inspire the hapless mortal.
Clio (Lindsey Forgey), making friends with Sonny, transforms herself into Kira with, yes, an Australian accent, roller skates and leg warmers, to seem more mortal and less muse-y.
I don’t know why either, but the will to apply logic quickly floats away on this river of joyful inanity. Is this not, as one muse says, the dawn of the ’80s? There’s a live (and very good) band. There are glittery demi-goddesses dancing on roller skates. There are glo-sticks.
And after a few wobbles at the start, the entire cast does a great job of belting out the songs penned by Jeff Lynne, of ELO fame — if you’re of a certain age, hearing Evil Woman and Have To Believe We Are Magic draws a twinge of nostalgia. Not to mention a little swing and some impressive, jump-on-the-desk tap dancing.
Sonny, whose spark to create is reignited by “Kira,” hatches a plan to open a roller disco, which he reasons would combine the arts “and something athletic.” But two of the older muses become jealous. In plotting to cast a spell on Clio, causing her to commit the sin of falling in love with a mortal and thus be doomed, Calliope (Mary Gundlach) and especially Melpomene (Renata Eastlick) are wicked good, and threaten to not only tear asunder but upstage the star-crossed lovers.
Artistic directors Patrick Fitzwater and Matthew Korinko get the tone and energy of what makes the play so infectious where the movie failed spectacularly. It’s in on the joke and winks at itself, but not in a smug or savage way — although there are a few zingers. Mourning the dawning cultural quagmire, Zeus (Larry Buzzeo, whose main role is as Xanadu theater proprietor Danny Maguire) says, “Creativity shall remain stymied for decades. The theater? They’ll just take some stinker movie or some songwriter’s catalog, throw it onstage and call it a show.”
(Sonny’s wide-eyed line lifted from Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz — “My, people seem to come and go so quickly here” — for some reason failed to draw a laugh.)
The muses, eventually revealed to a disbelieving Sonny (“Dude, we speak in unison. How much proof do you need?”), even allow for a little lesson in Greek mythology —the gaudy gods might have been right at home in Members Only jackets and parachute pants.
But the big reveal is what Xanadu means. Here’s a hint: “No curse can penetrate these mighty leg warmers!”
Happily, that’s as deep as it gets.