Theater Reviews

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Helen Hayes Theatre, New York
Runs indefinitely

"The theater? They'll just take some stinkeroo movie ... throw it on a stage, and call it a show."

I wish I could take credit for that astute bit of analysis when it comes to "Xanadu," the new Broadway musical adaptation of the cult favorite 1980 stinkeroo film, but it comes directly from the show itself. Its author, Tony-nominated playwright Douglas Carter Beane ("The Little Dog Laughed"), clearly wants to head off the inevitable criticism at the pass. No doubt that's why a character also declares at one point: "This is like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people!"

Unfortunately, such self-consciousness is not likely to increase your enjoyment of this slipshod enterprise, which belongs more in a fringe festival than on Broadway. Despite running a mere 90 minutes, it quickly proves wearisome in its one-note camp attitude.

You might recall the plot of the film, if post-traumatic stress hasn't erased it. It has to do with the efforts of a beautiful muse from ancient Greece (Kerry Butler, in the role of Kira originally played by Olivia Newton-John) to inspire Sonny (Cheyenne Jackson), a down-on-his-luck artist. Her appearance prompts him to try to restore an old abandoned theater named Xanadu and convert it to a roller disco.

Fortunately for Sonny, the building's greedy businessman owner (Tony Roberts) has a weak spot: He had an encounter with the same gorgeous muse many years earlier.

The show, like the original film, features a musical score by Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) and John Farrar, with the amusing addition of Newton-John ringers like "Have You Never Been Mellow?"

Although the satirical book has its flashes of wit, it doesn't manage to transform the horrific source material into anything theatrically viable, at least not in a way that hasn't already been done countless times before. (At one point, there's an insulting reference to Andrew Lloyd Webber, but musicals in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.)

The music, featuring such familiar numbers as "Evil Woman," "Party All Over the World," "I'm Alive" and the title song, certainly demonstrates Lynne's trademark pop tunefulness. Unfortunately, it isn't well served here by the tinny arrangements and lackluster vocals.

Butler, wearing the character's trademark leg warmers, is certainly perky enough, even if she never seems quite comfortable on her roller skates. Jackson, a last-minute replacement for original star James Carpinello (he had a skating malfunction), well displays his hunky attributes in tight shorts and tank tops. Veteran performer Roberts handles his rather humiliating chores with the grace and good humor of a true professional, and Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa deliver some hilarious moments as Kira's fellow muses. But for all their efforts and those of director Christopher Ashley, who has staged the proceedings with a suitably hokey silliness, "Xanadu" should have stayed in the DVD bargain bin.

XANADU
Presented by Robert Ahrens, Dan Vickery, Tara Smith/B. Swibel and Sarah Murchison/Dale Smith
Credits:
Book: Douglas Carter Beane
Music-lyrics: Jeff Lynne, John Farrar
Director: Christopher Ashley
Choreographer: Dan Knechtges
Set designer: David Gallo
Lighting designer: Howell Binkley
Costume designer: David Zinn
Sound designers: T. Richard Fitzgerald, Carl Casella
Cast:
Clio/Kira: Kerry Butler
Sonny: Cheyenne Jackson
Danny/Zeus: Tony Roberts
Calliope/Aphrodite: Jackie Hoffman
Melpomene/Medusa: Mary Testa
Thalia/others: Curtis Holbrook
Euterpe/others: Anika Larsen
Erato/others: Kenita Miller
Terpsichore/others: Andre Ward
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