Even mentioning going to Xanadu at the Southwark Playhouse is enough to elicit a strong response from people, whether it is open dismissiveness or derision, or otherwise an almost immediate reminiscence of halcyon days. For my own part I couldn’t help but think of Roger Smith in the animated comedy ‘American Dad!’ – the spoof lyrics in the relevant scene being ‘Xanadu! / Can’t cry on cue! / Now I am here / In Xanadu’…
The original motion picture, for what it’s worth, had an almost laughable narrative and questionable acting (the great Gene Kelly aside), though the finale was a song-and-dance extravaganza, and there was something broadly Shakespearean (even Chaucerian) about invoking the power of the gods of ancient Greece to influence circumstances and human behaviour in the here and now.
I only bother to mention the movie at all simply because the musical does, choosing not to skate around (pun intended) the box office failure that it happened to be but dealing with the motion picture’s weaknesses head-on, much to the amusement of the discerning audience. Those who haven’t seen the movie will still be able to follow events (anybody who has seen it will testify that it’s hardly a difficult narrative), but the almost relentless parodying of the movie does mean that anyone’s enjoyment of this production is maximised by having been exposed to Xanadu previously.
“This is like children’s theatre for 40-year-old gay people,” exclaims Calliope (Lizzy Connolly). Xanadu is not the only musical such a statement can be applied to – I’m sure you can think of a few. This show, however, is perfect for hen parties too, or anybody who is happy to just let their hair down and let a comical love story between a Greek demigod, Kira (Carly Anderson) and a Californian young man, Sonny (Samuel Edwards) wash over them. Anderson’s exaggerated Australian accent is a hoot, while Edwards is credibly handsome and talented to set the hearts of Kira and the ladies and gays of the audience aflutter. I wasn’t entirely convinced by their chemistry, but nonetheless they seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage, which feeds off on the audience, whose reactions then feed off on their performances, and so on.
The whole thing is frankly ridiculous, and it knows it. A comparison with Springtime for Hitler from The Producers is too strong: the story is hardly horrifically tasteless, but Xanadu is absurd enough to be strangely enjoyable, and therein lies the success for this musical. There’s not much point in picking holes in the plotline – the dialogue does all that work for the audience, usually eliciting much laughter – and I found it highly refreshing. Alison Jiear (Melpomene) is hysterically comical as an evil muse (and one that’s not in the movie), and a four-piece band, led by Andrew Bevis, was skilled enough to sound as good (or as tortuous, if that’s your view) as the Electric Light Orchestra did at the height of its powers back in the day.
A word of warning. Do not see Xanadu if, like Mark Watney in the recent motion picture The Martian, you can’t abide disco music. It’s in abundance. Also, there’s a teeny weensy bit of educational value (for me, at least). To “harsh my mellow” means to ruin that person’s happiness – I never knew that before. Hence Sonny’s injunction: “Woman, don’t harsh my mellow!” Not everyone quite succeeds in making roller-skating look effortless, and one or two songs come across as fillers to pad out a thin plot. Still, it was a pleasure to witness this discovery of “true love and the ability to create and share art”. Satisfyingly entertaining, Xanadu is a light couple of hours of escapist theatre to be celebrated, embraced and enjoyed. You try leaving the Southwark Playhouse after the show without humming the title tune, if only in your head…
Review by Chris Omaweng
Xanadu Theatre Productions presents Xanadu
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Lynne & John Farrar
Xanadu is the hilarious roller skating musical adventure based on the 1980s cult movie classic which starred Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. Kira, the magical and beautiful Greek muse, descends from the heavens of Mount Olympus for Venice Beach, California, on a quest to inspire a struggling artist, Sonny, who wants to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time – the first roller disco… Well hey, it is 1980! But, when Kira falls into forbidden love with the mortal Sonny, her jealous sisters take advantage of the situation and chaos abounds. Xanadu features the chart topping songs from the film: “Magic”, “Suddenly”, “I’m Alive”, “Evil Woman”, “All Over the World” and of course, “Xanadu”!
Director – Paul Warwick Griffin
Designer – Morgan Large
Choreographer – Nathan M. Wright
Sound Designer – Richard Brooker
Lighting Designer – Ben Cracknell
Production Manager – Simon Gooding
Casting Director – Will Burton
Musical Director – Andrew Bevis
Illusions – Chris Fisher
Kira (Clio) – Carly Anderson
Sonny – Samuel Edwards
Danny / Zeus – Nigel Barber
Melpomene – Alison Jiear
Calliope – Lizzy Connolly
Erato – Micha Richardson
Terpsicore – Joel Burman
Thalia – Nicholas Duncan
Euterpe – Emily McGougan
77-85 Newington Causeway
London, SE1 6BD