Chicago Theatre Review
A Musical Suspended in Time
Xanadu – American Theatre Company
Some movies almost beg to be satirized, as does this 1980 cult favorite that starred Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. But for sheer joy and escapism, American Theater Company’s high voltage production of Broadway’s 2007 surprise sensation truly hits all the right notes. Douglas Carter Beane’s witty script (a Drama Desk Award winner) both borrows from, while it lampoons, a film that endures largely because of its infectious Electric Light Orchestra score. Indeed, the stage version includes most of the film’s Jeff Lynne/John Farrar soundtrack, showcasing hits like “I’m Alive,” “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “I’m Free.” And, if the score isn’t enough to reignite the fun of the ’80’s, leg warmers, big hair, glitzy neon colored spandex, wild makeup, mirror balls and roller disco dancing serve to remind audiences of a more innocent, bygone era.
As a tribute to ATC’s late artistic director, PJ Paparelli, gifted director Lili-Anne Brown, ably assisted by choreographer Brigitte Ditmars, and supported by Aaron Benham’s top-notch musical direction, has created a vibrantly pulsating entertainment that showcases every individual’s need for creative expression and love. Backed by Benham’s talented
four-member, soft rock accompaniment, this nostalgic musical simply hums. Arnel Sancianco’s roller rink scenic design is illuminated by Michael Stanfill’s rock concert lighting design and projections. Together with Samantha C. Jones’ quirky, creative period and fantasy costumes, this production team has comically fashioned a bright, enthralling, magical world that almost spills over into the audience.
As always, casting is everything, and choosing Landree Fleming to play the leading role in this musical was inspired. This accomplished artist, who recently starred in Paramount’s “Hairspray,” is absolute perfection. Ms. Fleming is a charismatic, true triple threat. As a delightfully lovable pixie-like Muse named Clio, Ms. Fleming plays a demigoddess who disguises herself as an 80’s roller princess, named Kira, in order to help inspire a young struggling painter. What she doesn’t anticipate is how easily she falls for the big palooka. Sporting a comically broad Australian accent, parodying the film’s star, Olivia Newton-John, she nicely complements Jim DeSelm’s comical California surfer dude sidewalk artist, Sonny Malone. Their onstage chemistry is strong and their comic timing indisputable. Both sing the glitter out of songs like “Suddenly,” “Don’t Walk Away,” “The Fall,” “All Over the World,” “Suspended in Time” and the infectious title tune, “Xanadu.”
Aaron Holland’s Danny Maguire, the money-hungry property mogul, played by Gene Kelly in the film, is funny, filled with attitude and yet quite touching while longing for his lost youth and a love that got away. Some of his best comic moments come as Mr. Holland plays Clio’s powerful father Zeus. Karla L. Beard and Missy Aguilar have a field day as Melpomene and Calliope, Clio’s jealous, villainous Muse sisters. Relishing being an “Evil Woman,” these two bodacious babes cackle and cavort round the rink, belting the heck out of their disco hits, especially the soaring “Strange Magic.”
The hardworking ensemble consists of Kasey Alfonso, Hanah Rose Nardone, James Nedrud and Daniel Spagnuolo, all of whom throw themselves body-and-soul into this production. This chorus of mythical beings bring balance and burlesque to Lili-Anne Brown’s hysterically camp production. And, except for some occasionally difficult sound balance, this production is undeniably pure “Magic.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 5-July 17 by the American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the ATC box office, by calling them at 773-409-4125 or by going to www.atcweb.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com