Xanadu–(n.) the title of a horrendous ’80s film and a theatrical production parodying said horrendous film now showing at the American Theatre Company.
If you hail from the land of the ’80s, you may remember the laughable film by the same title starring none other than Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. The movie was deemed as nothing short of a disaster, but fret not, the cast and crew of ATC are here to ensure the classic doesn’t go to waste. Director Lili-Anne Brown and her talented cast transport us to a land where Greek mythology and roller discos synergize to form one funky ride.
From the second the audience walks into the theatre, the ’80s come alive in a whimsical playful manner. The stage is repurposed into a roller blading rink surrounded fully by the audience (Think Disney on Ice, minus the ice). Set designer Arnel Sanciano took full advantage of the small space, allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the set, adding an extra variable for the actors to navigate around. Acting, singing, rollerblading AND dancing? What can’t this cast do?!
The musical can be best described as a romantic satirical comedy with some Greek mythology sprinkled in. The year is 1980. The place is Venice Beach, California. Here is where we meet Sonny Malone (Jim Deselm) a failed artist on the brink of suicide whose fate is about to change. Enter Clio (Landre Fleming) the Greek muse known as the leader of muses who is now on a quest to inspire Sonny to create the greatest work of art on the planet! This side-splitting parody uses every scene and every actor to remind you that love can be found in the most unlikely of places and under the most ridiculous circumstances. Fleming dazzles throughout the entirety of the performance. From her Australian persona to her full body comedy and singing talent, Fleming captivated the crowd every time she entered the stage. Deselm makes for a great partner as he complements Fleming just well enough to not overshadow her performance while still dazzling us with his killer notes.
The duo encounters Danny Maguire (Aaron Holland), the owner of a building that is deemed to be the perfect location for the roller disco of Sonny’s dreams. Holland plays the love-stricken business type convincingly well. So well, in fact, that he becomes nearly unrecognizable when he is transformed into a drunken flamboyant Zeus near the end of the musical. I’ll let you find out just how Xanadu gets to that point. I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun.
The ensemble, made up of Clio’s muse sisters, was a remarkable bed of talent. Each cast member carried out his or her own muse persona while also performing masterfully in each of their various roles. Amongst the multiple standout performances were the witty exchanges between Calliope (Missy Augilar) and Melpomene (Karla L. Beard) as well as Thalia’s (Daniel Spagnuolo) show-stopping dance solo. The direction and choreography (Brigitte Ditmars) completed this energetic piece that never left a moment to the imagination.
If the stage, the live band, the serious acting chops on display, or this raving review don’t entice you to spend a night at ATC, then hopefully the throwbacks to hits such as “Magic” and “Suddenly” will bring you out. All in all, I had a great time and I hope you will too. Thanks ATC for giving us the perfect beat to start off summer time and pride season in Chicago.
The production is a tribute to ATC’s late artistic director, P.J. Paparelli, who died at age 40 a year ago in a car accident in Scotland. Xanadu was his all-time favorite movie.
Xanadu is at the American Theater Company until July 17. Tickets range from $48-$58.