If there was ever a disco-era Greek-fantasy musical starring Olivia Newton-John on roller skates destined to be reincarnated on stage it was absolutely Xanadu.
Photo Courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company
OK, that’s really not true. The 1980 movie, which attempted to capitalize on the popularity of Newton-John and disco music but missed its window on both, was eviscerated by critics. The late great Roger Ebert wrote: “‘Xanadu’ is a mushy and limp musical fantasy, so insubstantial it keeps evaporating before our eyes. It’s one of those rare movies in which every scene seems to be the final scene; it’s all ends and no beginnings, right up to its actual end, which is a cheat.” Despite being a box office stink bomb, the movie–and more specifically its fashions and Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra-heavy soundtrack–achieved cult classic status over the years, so much so that the movie was inexplicably resurrected on Broadway in 2007 and is currently playing at Herberger Theatre Center in Downtown Phoenix. And it’s brilliant. The Arizona Theatre Company production is the perfect blend of homage and lampoon, and the aforementioned music, in the care of some powerful cast voices and spot-on synth-pop accompaniment, is head-bobbing fantastic. In particular, the ELO hits “I’m Alive,” “Magic,” “Evil Woman” and “Don’t Walk Away” will have you singing along, unabashedly. The costumes don’t disappoint, either. The togas, roller skates, headbands, legwarmers and jorts combine to say, “Yeah, we’re like sooo this totally rad!” with just the right amount of nods and winks. Rather than spoil the plot (unlike the movie, there is one), I’ll simply urge you enthusiastically to experience Xanadu, which runs until January 19, for yourself.