by Beki Pineda
XANADU – Book by Douglas Carter Beane; Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynn and John Farrar; Directed by Joel Ferrell. Produced by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Cabaret (presented at the Garner Galleria Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through April 28, 2019. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
Checking quickly through the dictionary for a definition of “cheesy,” I came across XANADU. Soooo silly – soooo cheesy – soooo cute, it’s like a Twinkie – so bad, it’s good. If you attend the Garner Galleria production, try to get the seats on Stage Right in front of the stage. Those six or eight seats are reserved for unpaid extras. This production has pared the normal cast of ten down to five by recruiting audience members for assistance in innocent and cute business.
And, yes, the rumors are true. They have created a miniature skating rink in the theatre involving ramps from both sides of the stage down to the house floor and adding a hardened surface to the space between the “orchestra” and the “mezzanine” sections of the theatre so that the actors can make a circle around the front half of the audience. When they warn in the preshow announcement to keep your arms and legs out of the aisle, they mean business.
The question remains – exactly WHY would anyone think there was a reason to resurrect this old script and update it to the 1980’s roller disco setting? This train started out as a play – HEAVEN CAN WAIT (with no roller skates) – which was adapted into a movie – HERE COMES MR. JORDAN – in 1941. This inspired another movie – DOWN TO EARTH – and another revival of HEAVEN CAN WAIT which led to the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly musical movie, XANADU. Universal plot #28 rewritten five times.Like so many of those vehicles that turn into cult favorites, the musical version did not garner much critical acclaim, but became beloved in its later life for the music.
OMG – this was so much fun!! You just have to let go of any serious expectations and go with it . . . just as the talented cast is doing. They are having as much fun doing the show as you have watching it. Skating with abandon, singing sappy love songs, engaging the audience in the fun, snapping their fingers and using their best Broadway belt on the songs . . . who could ask for anything more??
You don’t need to know the story to enjoy it; it’s so lightweight as to be non-existent. Douglas Beane has written some important dramedy’s – but not this day. Jeff Lynn who wrote half the songs is a member of the Electric Light Orchestra while John Farrar wrote the other half of the songs and was Olivia Newton-John’s personal musician creating most of her number one songs for over a decade.
I was lucky enough to see the understudy for the lead role, Leiney Rigg, who was subbing for Lauren Shealy who had been ordered to take a voice rest for several days. It is hard to imagine that anyone could literally throw herself into a role with more gusto that Leiney displayed. What does Mel B say? She was “off the track.” But then everyone else was as well. Marco Robinson plays the chalk artist turned disco manager in shorts and basketball shirt. Sheryl McCallum (her “Evil Woman” will put you away), Sarah Rex, and Aaron Vega as muses and goddesses delight the world. You kind of expect maybe there will be a disco ball . . . . but EIGHT!!!
Bring the teenagers. They won’t believe what they are seeing but will get lost in the music and the silliness of it all. It’s something you can talk about with them at breakfast the next morning, sharing your own disco memories.
A WOW factor of 9!!