At the Arts Club Granville Island Stage until Aug. 4
What theatregoers call The Silly Season has definitely arrived. And it doesn’t get any goofier than Xanadu—a romantic musical comedy on rollerskates.
Useless but interesting background: Xanadu was a summer palace, north of present-day Beijing, built by Kubla Khan back in the 13th century. In 1278 the Venetian explorer Marco Polo wrote a description of the palace and in 1614 an English clergyman named Samuel Purchas published Purchas his Pilgrimage, in which he refers to Xanadu—not as a firsthand account but based on Marco Polo’s journal. It begins, “In Xanadu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace, encompassing 16 miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be moved from place to place.”
If that sounds familiar, you’re up on your Samuel Taylor Coleridge whose famous late-18th-century opium-inspired poem begins, “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure dome decree.” Which goes to prove once again how writers steal not only from the best but also from the completely obscure.
Xanadu, the 2007 Broadway musical, is based on the 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John, which, in turn, borrowed from the 1947 film Down To Earth (with Rita Hayworth). And I’m betting that Down To Earth was based on something else leaving one to wonder if there is anything new under the sun.
Here’s the plot: Clio (Marlie Collins), daughter of Zeus, perceives that artist Sonny Malone (Gaelen Beatty)—a mortal—is down on his luck and considering ending it all. Deciding to intervene, she disguises her immortal self by 1) wearing leg warmers 2) putting on rollerskates and 3) affecting an Australian accent. Oh, and she changes her name to Kira. And down to Venice, Calif. she goes to help out poor Sonny who, naturally, is a gorgeous hunk in cut-offs and a headband. Hey, it’s the ’80s.
Here’s the hitch: by Zeus’s decree, immortals are not allowed to fall in love with mortals. Clio’s jealous sister Melpomene (Beatrice Zeilinger) puts a curse on Clio that causes her to fall head over rollerskates with Sonny whose big dream is to open a roller disco, mirror ball and all.
The story gets complicated by rich guy Danny (Simon Webb) who, it seems, had a similar encounter with a Muse from Mount Olympus 40 years ago.
Director Dean Paul Gibson’s flamboyant touch is everywhere from a wheeled-on Pegasus that spirits Clio/Kira away, and a fabulously funny Centaur (J. Cameron Barnett) that tosses its mane and paws its pretty feet. Lisa Stevens’ choreography is ’80s hilarious (with athletic Vincent Tong and rubber-jointed Barnett as absolute standouts). Rebekka Sorensen’s costumes harken back to the Broadway musical production with lots of cross-your-heart tunics and glitz. Musical director Bill Sample gets more sound out of four musicians, located on stage behind a scrim, than seems possible.
Collins is everything she needs to be: blonde, pretty, good on wheels and great at delivering a song. Beatty is handsome, even better on the skates and has a strong voice. Zeilinger shows, once again, how wicked she can be; Bonnie Panych is a hoot as Melpomene’s nasty sidekick. And just try to take your eyes off Barnett who’s outrageously committed to being outrageous.
Add in Stephanie Liatopoulos and Cailin Stadnyk as Clio/Kira’s other Olympian sisters and you’ve got your nine Muses. (Not the brightest bulb in the candelabra, Sonny thinks “muse” is “a little alleyway with quaint townhouses.”)
It’s all colourful, tuneful, uh, danceful and silly. I laughed in spite of myself and to borrow a quote, “Don’t harsh my mellow.” If you’re into dreary, Xanadu ain’t it.