The District Theatre's Xanadu is perhaps the silliest, cheesiest, guiltiest-pleasure piece of musical theatre I've yet seen on a local stage ... and I loved it! Director Tristan Tapscott plays up the goofiness of this self-referential take on the 1980 cult-film favorite, finding delight in its pokes at the movie's ridiculousness and in the infectiously energetic songs, and the resulting mix of fluff and flash adds up to two hours of pure entertainment.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane does somewhat alter the film's storyline for this stage version, though all of the songs by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar are retained, with a few extras added to support a new subplot. Here, the muse Clio (Jenny Winn) still sets out to inspire Sonny (Bryan Tank) to create great art in the form of a roller disco. But in this version, Beane incorporates more of the Greek mythology behind the movie's narrative, with Clio's sisters cursing their sibling by making her fall in love with the mortal artist - the fate for which is eternal banishment to the underworld. The muses consequently play a much bigger role in the theatrical Xanadu, and in Tapscott's production, the actors portraying those muses make the show well-worth repeated attendance.
Camping it up, they each incorporate small, physical-comedy bits into their intentionally over-the-top performances, particularly when they're not the main focus of attention. During Friday's performance, I had a great time watching the stupidly funny moves of Tracy Pelzer-Timm's Calliope - such as the weird way she left the stage, at one point, by walking as if she were on a ski machine - and the halfhearted dancing of Sara King's dismissive, annoyed Melpomene. The condescending air of Linda Ruebling's cigar-smoking Erato and the air-headed demeanor of Becca Meumann's Euterpe were also fun, and while Joe Maubach and Joel Collins were intrinsically funny for being men cast as female demigods Thalia and Terpiscore, the two pulled out even more humor by playing up this gender-bending casting. (My favorite bit occurred when Collins, with a tearful look on his face, rested his head on Maubach's chest.) There are so many of these little pearls of amusement here that I think one could watch the production several times and find something newly hilarious in each one of the muses' performances.
Leads Winn and Tank are also a delight to watch. Winn, who has been nothing short of impressive in everything I've seen her in, employs a spot-on (if comical) Australian accent while her Clio is disguised as the human "Kira," and all throughout, maintains a humorous sense of self-importance (as well as exceptional balance, as she's on roller skates for almost the entire production). Tank, meanwhile, opts for a "Valley guy" accent for his dimwitted Sonny, and lends the role a physical demeanor to match. Excellent as their portrayals are, the actors are even better when they're singing, whether in solo or duet. With their beautiful, strong voices, Winn and Tank tackle the tunes with vigor, much to this Xanadu mega-fan's delight.
It's the performance of a song not featured in the movie, however, that particularly bowled me over. Belting her way through Electric Light Orchestra's "Evil Woman" with abandon, King's voice rises to the rafters, and carries with it a sense of naughty fun as Melpomene - hoping to steal from Clio the title of Lead Muse - plots her attack. Yet as if King's vocals weren't enough (which they would be), Pelzer-Timm adds even more comedy in her vocalization of the horns accompanying the song. These two may be the villains of the musical, but they're too much fun to hate.
Also incredibly likable is choreographer Kelly Lohrenz's employment of '80s dance moves. While I'm sure I missed many a signature dance step, I was tickled pink to see Lohrenz letting her cast vogue, do "the sprinkler," and make that move that involves leading with the top of your head while your body follows in a sort of "S" shape. The choreography here is as delightfully, appropriately campy as the musical itself, and if I had a complaint with the production (and I really don't), it would be that Tapscott's set is too minimalist for such a colorful show. However, the lack of scenery - beyond three white blocks of various sizes - is not a detriment to the District Theatre's presentation of Xanadu, an homage to the original film that features all of its high-energy fun and oh-so-singable songs.
Xanadu runs at the District Theatre (1611 Second Avenue, Rock Island) through July 14, and information and tickets are available by calling (309)235-1654 or visiting DistrictTheatre.com.