The year 1980 was a wild and wacky year in many ways; it also possessed an innocence. As disco faded, it was the last year before newspapers reported that a strange disease was wreaking havoc among a small group of people; the disease became known as AIDS.
And Hollywood produced a flop musical starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly called “Xanadu,” which both critics and audiences panned. And yet: the soundtrack album, which featured music by Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra, went double platinum and charted five singles on the Billboard Top 20. How could this happen?
Flash forward to 2007: A revised “Xanadu” opened on Broadway with Cheyenne Jackson and Kerry Butler and ran for almost 500 performances. I saw it and had a ball.
Flash-forward to 2021, Atlanta, and Out Front Theatre’s current irresistible production of “Xanadu.” Director Paul Conroy has his finger on our pulses: He says we’re at a point where “we need to laugh and smile more than ever…we invite you to escape — escape into a world of leg warmers, mirror balls, and pop rock…where the creation of art and the pursuit of love are the only things that occupy our energies.” And I might add where an ancient Greek muse from Olympus can somehow land in Venice Beach, California, to inspire a hapless youth named Sonny — and with an Australian accent.
Please note: “Xanadu” is a co-production with Georgia State University. The Out Front Company cast will perform through Nov 6; the GeorgiaState cast will perform from Nov. 10-14.
Back to the show: in 1980 chalk artist Sonny Malone (Russell Scott) is dissatisfied with his sidewalk mural of the Greek Muses (daughters of Zeus) and decides to kill himself. On Mount Olympus, Clio (Anna Gonzalez), the youngest Muse, convinces her sisters to travel to Venice Beach to inspire Sonny (“I’m Alive”). Zeus (Clint Clark-Duke) requires that Muses always be disguised from mortals. Clio decides to wear roller skates, sport an Australian accent, and changes her name to Kira (“Magic”).
Two of Clio’s sisters, Melpomeme (Arianna Hardaway) and Calliope (Brandy Sexton) become jealous of Clio’s earthly adventures (“Evil Woman”) and plot to cause Clio’s banishment by breaking one of Zeus’ rules: A Muse must not fall in love with a mortal. Ms. Hardaway and Ms. Sexton are both very funny.
The plot thickens, as usually happens when mortals mix with deities. Absurdities, sight gags, gods and mortals whizzing by on roller skates on scenic artist Ryan Bradburn’s clever set – you just don’t want to miss out on all this fun. The audience had a ball the night I was there; you will too — unless you turn into a total fuddy-duddy.
The talented cast includes Max Mattox, Precious Anika West, Emily Dee, and Bradley T. Johnson. I think Ms. Gonzalez’ (Kira/Clio) voice would sound lovely if it were recorded. This attractive cast glows with fun and magnetism; director Conroy has wisely allowed them to be in on the joke and yet in character — a tricky thing to do.
“Xanadu” has a book by Douglas Carter Bean; music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. Jay Reynolds is the costume designer; Charles I. Swift, lighting designer; choreography by Tyler Sarkis; music direction by Gamble. By the way, Nick Silvestri’s sound design was the best I’ve ever heard in this theatre.
Out Front is going to show the “Xanadu” film at a special screening on Nov. 3 in partnership with Out on Film.
Be sure to check outfronttheatre.com for Covid procedures, but don’t let that spoil the other-worldly magic and fun that is “Xanadu.”