Sunday, July 12, 2015

Theater Review: Xanadu -- CT Repertory

Cast of  Xanadu.  Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
 Take a Trip Back to the ’80s and to Corny Fun with Xanadu
By Lauren Yarger
hart-topping pop songs from the 1980s such as "Evil Woman," "Strange Magic" and "Have You Ever Been Mellow" take us on a trip down memory lane – and to Xanadu, closing out the Nutmeg Summer Series at CT Repertory Theatre on the UConn Storrs campus.

Vincent J. Cardinal directs the silly story by Douglas Carter Beane (Cinderella, Sister Act) adapted from the popular film by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel which starred Olivia Newton-John. It tells the story of Sonny (Luke Hamilton), a discouraged artist who decides to commit suicide after completing a mural of Greek muses. One of them, Clio (Amandina Altomare), decides to visit him in person to inspire the young artist. She disguises herself by changing her name to Kira, adopting an Australian accent (though Altomare’s is pretty annoying) and sporting leg warmers and roller skates to fit into the culture of 1980s California.

Two of her sister muses, Calliope (Steve Hayes) and Melopomene (Ariana Shore) follow her. They are jealous that their father, Zeus (Dirk Lumbard), has promised Clio “Xanadu,” though none of them are exactly sure what that is…. They put a curse on her so that she will create art herself (forbidden to muses) and fall in love with a mortal (also forbidden.)

Meanwhile, Sonny, now inspired, discovers an abandoned theater called the Xanadu and hopes to present concerts and other artistic endeavors, like a roller disco, there. Owner Danny (also Lumbard) is not interested at first, but remembers a time when he rejected a visit by his own muse, and gives in realizing that he let pride get in the way of his chance for love and happiness all those years ago.

Will Kira and clueless Sonny (well portrayed by Hamilton) find true love? Will Kira’s disobedience incur the wrath of Zeus? The answers to these and other not-so-hard-to-answer questions are revealed in a very silly show that fortunately doesn’t take itself very seriously. Cardinal also doesn’t try to play the show for more than it is, and the result is a corny, fun-filled time at the theater evoking memories of Newton-John’s renditions of the Jeff Lynne/John Farrar  tunes that some of us remember blaring on all of the popular radio stations back in the ’80s.

Hayes and Shore, who shines, do have good rapport on stage and account for most of the show’s laughs. Hayes gets guffaws just for showing up in ridiculous wig and garb designed by Lisa Loen and had a group of older women near me cackling throughout. Loen also has fun creating costumes for some of the Greek gods. Tim Brown designs the sets and projections that transport us from California to Mount Olympus.

Why Cardinal chooses to have a number of the muses (the others are Taylor Stutz, Johnny Brantley III, Jayne Ng, Annie Wallace and Conor Connally) played by physically well-chiseled men who couldn’t possibly be mistaken for females is one question that remains unanswered, however. It is a personal pet peeve to see women playing women’s roles on stage for no apparent reason.

The very small band is directed by NDavid Williams with Daniel Moctezuma conducting. The musical beat, choreography by Cassie Abate and the singing voices sometimes seems at odds with each other and could use some polishing. Broadway vet Lumbard entertains with some tap dancing skills.

Xanadu appears through July at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, UConn, Storrs campus. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $12 – $55. (860) 486-2113;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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