Slow Burn Theatre’s blissful stage presentation of “Xanadu” at Broward Center’s Abdo New River Room is like a Mad magazine parody of the 1980 Universal Picture film. “Xanadu” was the flop turned cult classic with the popular soundtrack that starred Olivia Newton-John and Michael “Whatever happened to?” Beck.
This, theater fans, is an escapist comedy treat just when we needed it most, all set to familiar lite-disco Electric Light Orchestra and Newton-John pop hits we’ve been humming since 1975 (the musical adds three earlier tunes from the artists’ catalogs to enhance the storytelling).
Director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater and his talented cast are given so much of what they need from playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s clever book from the surprise hit 2007 Broadway version all they have to do is roller skate in unison without careening off the intimate stage for “Xanadu” to work. But the cast elevates Beane’s text with enthusiastic performances that sell the silly concept. They aren’t making high art here — and that’s all part of the campy fun.
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If you’re going you probably already know the story: Sad artist Sonny (played by Rick Peña) meets the lovely muse Kira (Lindsey Corey) who can’t help him with his art or fall in love with him lest she anger her boss Zeus. But the story isn’t what’s important. Here’s why you should see this sunny delight before it skates out of town March 5.
1. It’s so much better than the movie.
“Xanadu” originally failed — in part, anyway — because the stars (Newton-John and Beck) had no onscreen chemistry and the writers took the plot (which borrowed from the 1947 Rita Hayworth movie “Down to Earth”) too seriously.
In the 90-minute “Xanadu” musical, the story is tighter, adding a Greek mythology subplot, tweaked for mirth and cribbed from the 1981 film “Clash of the Titans.” Every winking line works, including the insider ribbing of Newton-John’s breathy singing style by Corey and the skewering of jukebox musicals and film adaptations.
2. When’s the last time you saw roller skating on a stage?
“I want to open a roller disco!” a once-suicidal, now inspired Sonny tells his muse Kira.
“How timeless!” responds Kira in an exaggerated Australian accent (the better to poke Newton-John). The line’s a dig at a fad that had died out by the time “Xanadu” limped into South Florida movie theaters on Aug. 2, 1980, the same day “Magic,” the first single from the soundtrack, started its four week run at No. 1.
3. You can actually leave the theater humming every song.
Can you say that about “La La Land?” (OK, kinda yes on “City of Stars,” but will we still be humming it in 2053?) Or “Kinky Boots” or Sondheim’s “Passion?” Even slightly subpar ELO, written by Jeff Lynne (“All Over the World” and “I’m Alive”) and peak Livvy, written by John Farrar (“Magic” and “Whenever You’re Away From Me)” boast pop melodies so irresistibly tuneful they bond with your DNA. Slow Burn’s production of the latter song features a stellar tap dance number on desktop by Conor Walton as one of Kira’s two male sisters, Thalia. (Did we mention this “Xanadu” is campy?)
4. Everyone’s singing is magic.
Corey’s voice is heavenly on “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “Suspended in Time.” So are Peña’s vocals on “Suddenly” and “The Fall.” Larry Bruzzeo (as musician turned developer Danny Maguire, the part played by Gene Kelly in the movie) excels on the ’40s pastiche, “Whenever You’re Away From Me.” Sharyn Peoples (Melpomene) and the hilarious Lissa Grossman Comess (Calliope) play ELO’s “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic” for laughs, but the range of their voices turns jukebox oldies into story — albeit goofy — songs.
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If You Go
What: “Xanadu” by Slow Burn Theatre Company
Where: Abdo New River Room at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday, 1 p.m. matinees Saturday-Sunday; through March 5
Information: 954-462-0222 or browardcenter.org