Hilarity on roller skates: Campy ‘Xanadu’ delights at the Village Theatre

Village Theatre has scored a hilarious hit with Xanadu, a campy, athletic new stage spoof of the notorious film flop turned cult classic.

By Francesca Lyman
Special for the Reporter

Village Theatre has scored a hilarious hit with Xanadu, a campy, athletic new stage spoof of the notorious film flop turned cult classic.

If you never saw the movie by the same title starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly – so bad it almost single handedly spawned the birth of the Oscar-parodying Golden Raspberry Award (or “Razzie”), a $4 plastic trophy made of raspberries glued to a film spool, spray-painted gold – you’ll still walk out laughing after seeing this show.

The Tony-nominated musical satire, originally produced on Broadway in 2007, written by Douglas Carter Beane, with music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, is wrapped around the film’s original chart-topping songs like I’m Alive, [You have to believe we are] Magic, Suddenly, Evil Woman, and Have you Ever been Mellow?

The musical fantasy is set in 1980 on Mt. Olympus and Los Angeles, where a creatively-frustrated street artist on the Venice Beach boardwalk, Sonny Malone, desperately needs a muse to finish his chalk mural of the nine Greek muses, entitled “Ancient Greek Arty Chicks.” Suddenly, out of the darkness, Grecian muse Clio, emerges to inspire. After all, as one of the muses orates, “It’s 1980…the year all inspiration left the arts.”

Enter Clio, in leg warmers and roller skates – disguised as a mortal and an Australian – and renamed Kira, singing “I’m Alive.” Soon she will help him meet up with the rich, real estate magnate Danny McGuire, owner of an abandoned old building where he will realize his dream of creating a roller disco palace called Xanadu.

The Village Theater’s production succeeds in capturing all the campy zest and glitter of the Broadway remake, with terrific music direction by Tim Symons of the songs originally tracked by the legendary pop band, the Electric Light Orchestra, excellent choreography by Kathryn Van Meter, and creative costuming by Karen Ann Ledger.

Much of the magic comes from the energy between the star duo (lovers in real life) Jessica Skerritt, in the lead role as Clio, and Dane Stokinger, as Sonny. Skerritt shimmers in the lustrous-haired Olivia Newton-John role, with captivating singing and excellent comedic timing – overdone Aussie accent included. Stokinger is endearing as the lovable lug of a beach bum in jean cut-offs, smitten by love, who also delivers some powerful vocals.

Clio’s cackling evil muse sisters, including Lisa Estridge, playing Melpomene, and Christine Riipii as Calliope, get down singing a mean version of “Evil Woman,” but also get many of the laughs.

The plot, what little there is of it, revolves around the jealous sisters’ scheme to curse Clio and send her to the Netherworld for daring to defy the divine rule that demi-gods cannot fall in love with mortals, nor that muses can share in creating art. Before the end, Kira must confront their father, Zeus, played ably by Jeff Steitzer, who also doubles as dancer doing a soft shoe routine in the Gene Kelly role of Danny McGuire. Maybe, in 2013, that’s immortality!

In any case, you’ll leave feeling joyfully exuberant. For all its silly fun, Xanadu is timely now, if for no other reason than the fact that it champions the arts – music, dance, costumes, especially – and shows how even how schlock art can be redeemed. My only criticism was that the sound was cranked up so high it distorted some of the vocals.

There’s plenty of audience participation. If you come see the musical on a Friday night, you might even be invited onstage to dance along with the cast after the encore.

Tickets are $34 to $65. More information is available at 425-392-2202. Village Theatre is located at 303 Front Street North, Issaquah.

Francesca Lyman is a writer and journalist living in Kirkland. Her work can be found at francescalyman.contently.com.