Having suffered through the train wreck that was the movie version of Xanadu so many years ago, I expected Xanadu On Broadway: The Original Broadway Cast Recording to bring back bad memories of kitsch and the sad, downward trajectory of Olivia Newton-John’s career.
Xanadu was supposed to make Olivia a movie star for the ages. She was coming off the success of Grease and the great Gene Kelly was her co-star. What could go wrong? In short, everything. The acting was bad, the story was strange, and the movie bombed. Olivia Newton-John’s film career never fully recovered.
In the new Broadway musical, Kerry Butler plays Kira, the Greek muse who lands from the heavens of Mt. Olympus, smack in the middle of Venice Beach, California in 1980. She is on a personal mission to help struggling artist, Sonny Malone (Cheyenne Jackson), to achieve his greatest artistic vision — the first roller disco! (I said the premise was weird even then.) But, when Kira falls in love with the mortal Sonny, her enraged, jealous sisters take advantage of the situation and chaos breaks out.
The best thing about Xanadu was the music, so that definitely gave producers something to work with when staging the Broadway show. Perhaps, driven by the current nostalgia for everything ‘70’s and ‘80’s, or my long dormant appreciation for the work of Olivia Newton-John, I found myself unexpectedly appreciating Xanadu On Broadway: The Original Broadway Cast Recording. Kerry Butler, whose previous Broadway credits include roles as Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Penny Pingleton in Hairspray, does a wonderful Australian accent, almost as if channeling Ms. Newton-John. Butler has a great voice, and she makes the hit song “Magic” sound even better than Olivia did back in 1981.
Jeff Lynne (of ELO) and famed composer John Farrar (Grease) created a score for the film version of Xanadu which has been translated to the Broadway stage. The soundtrack includes: “Magic,” “All Over The World,” “Suddenly,” “I’m Alive,” “Evil Woman,” and "Have You Never Been Mellow?". “Evil Woman” and “Have You Never Been Mellow?” were not in the original film. The songs have been added to the Broadway musical and add to the fun feel of the whole project.
The entire cast sounds like their having a ball. The seem to be not only playing up the kitsch factor associated with Xanadu, but also paying tribute to Olivia Newton-John, who has had a pretty impressive career. For some, Xanadu the film has become a kind of cult classic. Fans of the film will want to check out Xanadu On Broadway: The Original Broadway Cast Recording. Fans of Broadway musicals will be pleasantly surprised; you might just want to go find some Aqua Net, a satin jacket and learn how to roller boogie… again!