After almost 11 months after its premiere and a couple of false starts & delays, I finally got the chance to see XANADU On Broadway in New York City for myself. The following is an small excerpt of a personal travelogue of my week long NYC trip.
Special note about this excerpt: as I’m nowhere near a professional writer (much less a writer), I take crappy notes…if any...which is okay as no notes means no pressure meaning I just wanted to set back and enjoy the show without any distractions. Besides, I’ve written enough about this production in detail through my reviews of the book and the soundtrack elsewhere in this site.
However, I’m not above your standard personal ego pitfall to share the following quotes that started my personal travelogue:
“(This is) probably the greatest most vulgar, gauche,
wildly naive, in many ways, most uninhibited
pop art work that’s ever been created!”
-Jean Shepherd on The 1964/65 New York
“We hope you enjoyed our modest pageant. And we hope,
when you get home tonight, you’ll have Xanadu waiting
for you. Love one another and fill your world with art!”
-Zeus, an outtake from Xanadu On Broadway
“As I entered the theater, there was a curtain level of giddiness in the air experienced by everybody inside, theater crew and audience. Might be possibly the show’s reputation was about to processed itself any moment now, or already left the station.
For a show that’s well known for it’s over the top production and aesthetics, it opens rather quietly. While the audience are getting seated settled and doing the usual pre-show small talk, Cheyenne Jackson, a. k. a. Sonny, enters the stage, kneels down and finishes a mural of the Greek muses on the stage floor, which is easily seen from a large circular mirror hanging over the stage. It takes awhile for the unsuspecting audience to notice that SOMEone is on the stage and they all soon realize that the show has just started without them. I found this sneaky move as hilarious as this was a warning shot of what was to come.
Speaking of warnings, Jackson’s performance of Sonny Malone should be noted at this point. As with the movie’s script, the emptiness of the Sonny character and performance has a built-in tremendous room for improvement that you can park the Titanic in with bonus headroom. Thankfully, Jackson’s take on Sonny fills in the gap with wide-eyed gumption and reckless energy that hasn’t been seen since the old days of George Of The Jungle. Much like Gene Kelly’s Danny McGuire, his head is always tilted upward with stars in the eyes, though this Sonny might end up getting distracted from those stars and smack into a tree. Whatever the case, he’ll lick his wounds and sally forth, leaving you to take bets whether he’s either too oblivious or stupid to notice.
For the trickier moments like the muses reappearing out of the mural, the stage crew were clever enough to drill a hole and a lift in the center of the stage, which also comes into hilarious effect when (spoil alert!) Sonny reaches Mount Olympus with a ladder.
The only other semi-twisted performance is Kerry Butler’s turn as Kira/Clio. Taking Olivia Newton-John’s verbal & singing characteristics almost reminded me of Amy Sedaris’ Strangers With Candy; Australian accent, breathless singing and over-dramatic posing all presented in such a fractured state.
Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa’s performance were in the tradition of over the top Broadway tradition on par with Zero Mostel with a dash of Sophie Tucker. Ms. Hoffman earns bonus points when this multi-layered satire shifts gears and respectively targets Clash Of The Titans and she riffs on the film’s stiff dialogue and performance.
Tony Roberts carves out his own low-key effective path and thus exudes much of the movie’s original naked sincerity that anchors the whole production. Even though this version of Danny McGuire is comically greedier than the film, the sub-plot of Danny’s relationship with Kira/Clio and his club/theater during his big-band years gives the necessary dramatic weight. I’ve read reviews where they complain that this part drags the show down, but it’s not really much of a drag as, like a good Mel Brooks film, it helps add a touch of humanity.
Also like Mel Brooks, the humor and satire comes in fast and furious in some parts to the point that you might loose track, but the play’s reflecting the movie’s original sincerity and philosophy that helps you cope with its pace…and for me, this reminds me why I still like the movie and why I came all the way to NYC to see this play.
If you should be so lucky, you might even have a chance to sit on bleachers on the stage, watching the action up close, though you might be part of the action as most of the actors will end up sitting nest to you and…possibly…run their fingers through your hair. You have been warned.
The bottom line for this show is obviously thumbs up; it’s a smart multi-layered satire on life, Broadway and the rest of the messy swamp we call pop culture, with just enough humanity to deliver a basic positive message of the arts and dedication to the brave souls who made this movie in the first place; especially that the original screenwriter is serving as a associate producer and, as I noted before, he suffered long enough.”