In 1980, a film called Xanadu was unleashed upon the public. Though its soundtrack went double platinum, the movie itself flopped at the box office and set musical cinema back 20 years. By 2007, however, this cheesy disco-era extravaganza had achieved cult status, and a Broadway production was the next logical step. In contrast to the Razzie Award-winning film, the stage musical was surprisingly successful, running for more than 500 performances and winning Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
The Guggenheim family is now presenting the first West Coast production of Xanadu since its U.S. tour. San Jose’s Retro Dome makes the perfect home for this gloriously campy show, which is a joy to behold from its hilarious start to a finale that lights up the Dome with more disco balls than should be legally permitted. Anyone who actually remembers the movie will recognize familiar plot points: a Greek muse (played in the film by Olivia Newton-John) emerges from a chalk mural to lend inspiration to struggling artist Sonny Malone (Adam Barry). Calling herself “Kira” and sporting roller skates, leg warmers and an Australian accent, she works her magic until Sonny realizes his grand tribute to the arts: opening up a roller disco.
The tongue-in-cheek play affectionately parodies the 1980 film while sending up the current fad for jukebox musicals.
Retro-enthusiasts will love its numerous pop-culture references, like the scene in which Sonny confronts a group of Greek gods and notes their similarity to the cast of Clash of the Titans. And of course, the play retains what everyone liked most about the movie, even if they wouldn’t admit it: musical hits by Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John. “I’m Alive,” “All Over the World” and “Xanadu” are all here. Newton-John’s “Strange Magic” and ELO’s “Evil Woman,” though not in the movie, are included for good measure and sound better than ever thanks to the guitar and synth-heavy band and some amazing singers. Sarah Aili is positively charming as Kira, Hilary Little and Shannon Guggenheim are great fun as two evil muses, and co-producer Stephen Guggenheim fulfills the role played in the film by Gene Kelley.
The audience on opening night, which fittingly included members of the Silicon Valley Roller Girls, was clearly having a great time, and if you can wipe the smile off your face while watching Xanadu, you’re tougher than any of them
Through May 8
The Retro Dome, San Jose