What do roller-discos, Greek mythology, Gene Kelly and Australia have to do with each other?
Absolutely, nothing. And indeed, it’s this ridiculous mismatch that made the 1980 movie musical Xanadu horrifyingly awful and the 2007 Broadway production of the same name wonderfully campy, and a good fit for Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company which is staging the Tony-Award winning musical through June 9.
Widely panned as dreadful, tasteless, and catastrophic, the film starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, inspired the Razzies — now awarded annually to Hollywood’s worst — and effectively killed the movie musical genre.
Newton-John reportedly broke her coccyx during a pre-production roller-skating lesson, which should have portended things to come.
Disregarding the bizarrely fractured story and psychedelic, dated production, however, Xanadu’s soundtrack launched five hit singles, sold more than 2 million copies, and became something of a cult classic, which made it a good contender for the type of songbook-inspired, Broadway revival popularized in the first decade of this century.
The stage adaptation features no more than five lines from the movie and takes as its primary theme the absurdity of its predecessor: e.g Greek muses find themselves in Los Angeles circa 1980, a space otherwise devoid of artistic inspiration.
Upon entering the Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, I was handed a glow stick and made my way across the central, roller-rink stage — sure signs of non-conformity to come.
For the next 90, intermission-less minutes, I laughed a lot and generally enjoyed myself as much as I can remember enjoying myself in a theatrical space.
That probably has something to do with the extent to which the roller-skating cast enjoys themselves, too. It’s infectious.
While roller-skating might simply be yet another ridiculously absurd element in what is otherwise a ridiculously absurd production, it also introduces an element of peripatetic precariousness that literally keeps everyone on their toes. If you keep paying attention, you might recognize a classic Greek dramatic structure at work too.
But it’s hard to be that serious, when there’s so much gleeful singing, dancing, glitter, headbands and lame skating around.
Xanadu, the place, was the summer capital of the Mongolian Empire introduced in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium-fueled epic Romantic poem “Kubla Khan.” It’s also “a place where nobody dared to go” according to the opening lyrics of the hit-song “Xanadu.”
Lucky for us, Douglas Carter Beane dared to go there and adapt Xanadu for the stage. And lucky for us, too, the SpeakEasy dared to present the Boston premiere of this hit Broadway musical.
You should dare to go there too.
SpeakEasy Stage Company
through June 9
$52-$57, discounts for seniors.
$25, age 25 and under.
$14 student rush
Featured Image: Ryan Overberg and McCaela Donovan in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Xanadu, running now thru June 9th at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com . Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.
Jonathan Simcosky is Art*Throb’s managing/business editor. He regularly blogs at www.jonathansimcosky.com.