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Theater review: ‘Xanadu’ is pure pop-rock heaven
BY GAIL CHOOCHAN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
The life of a stage actor is taxing enough. For a musical theater performer, it’s maybe even harder, with complex choreography thrown into the mix. Now, how about adding some roller skates?
“Xanadu,” an 1980s movie starring Olivia Newton–John, was a cinematic mess. However, the story is enjoying a much better life as a Broadway musical. And now this straight-up ridiculous show has rolled its way to the Signature Theatre in Arlington.
Sure, this plot involving a Greek muse who tries to inspire a dopey artist to open a roller disco in Venice Beach sounds silly, but, guess what? It works. And that’s in large part to Erin Weaver as the disguised Australian Kira, who not only charms the shorty-shorts off her leading man but those of the audience as well. Weaver is absolutely effervescent here, spinning around stage with incredible poise (she’s on skates for most of the production). And she’s quite the stunner vocally as well. Just listen to her sing the sultry ballad “Magic.”
The object of Kira’s services and affection is Sonny, who is struggling to find artistic success. She materializes out of one of his sidewalk murals and appears to him as a mysterious roller-skating beach babe. While nudging him in the right direction, Kira discovers her own creativity and falls for this sweet fool (which is a big no-no for her kind). This leads to all sorts of troublemaking from two of her sister muses, Melpomene and Calliope, who want to make her look bad to the big guy up there, Zeus.
With its contagious goofiness and catchy musical numbers, “Xanadu” is a great way for Signature close out the season. Director Matthew Gardiner, who’s also behind the fun choreography, keeps every moving along smoothly. There are a couple of lagging moments during the latter half, but overall “Xanadu” is a nice ride. And the entire cast just looks like they’re having a big party up there onstage.
As Sonny Malone, Charlie Brady plays up his character’s dimwittedness to perfection. He’s pretty much clueless all the time. Vaudeville, what? Errol Flynn, who? He also gets bonus points for appearing in the Broadway revival of “South Pacific,” which remains one of the best shows I’ve seen in past years.
The rest of the cast is such a delight to watch, especially Signature favorite Sherri Edelen, who hams it up as Calliope, one of the older muses. Even though her character’s playing second fiddle to Nova Y. Payton’s Melpomene, she manages to steal most of the laughs. Whether she’s air-guitaring “Evil Woman” or sexing it up as Aphrodite, Edelen is a hoot. But she’s not the only one generating laughs. Nickolas Vaughan as Hermes absolutely kills it with just one simple line, which I’m not going to give away.
Delightful from start to finish, this production of “Xanadu” is simply heaven on wheels. And in just 90 minutes, you’d wish you were back in the 1980s. Maybe minus the legwarmers.
WANT TO GO?
Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington
When: Through July 1.
Cost: $63 and up
Info: 703/820-9771; signature-theatre.org
Gail Choochan: 540/374-5000