The musical Xanadu ran on Broadway for 512 performances and 49 previews. It is based on the 1980 movie by the same name that basically bombed at the box office but became a cult favorite because of its score. The movie starred Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, and Gene Kelly.
The movie, in turn, was inspired by a reference in a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to a magical and opulent place called Xanadu inhabited by Kubla Khan. The movie was laughable but the score became popular on the pop charts, and apparently the movie and the score made a lasting impression on two of the creators of today's musical, John Farrar (Grease) and Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra). They coaxed playwright Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed), director Christopher Ashley (now Artistic Director of the La Jolla Playhouse), and choreographer Dan Knechtges (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) to join them to create the musical that Ashley has brought to the La Jolla Playhouse as the first stop on its national tour.
Xanadu the musical still has a pretty good score, with songs like “Magic,” “All Over The World,” Xanadu,” and the interpolated “Have You Never Been Mellow” by Farrar. The score is peppy and hummable. The sets, the limited amount of roller skating (it was a big deal in the movie), and a surprisingly uninspired book by Beane keep the show earthbound.
Elizabeth Stanley plays Kira, the muse who comes to earth and falls for a mortal. Max von Essen plays Sonny, the roller skating valley boy with limited intelligence. A sidewalk artist with dreams of opening a roller disco, he turns to Danny (Larry Marshal), the owner of a defunct, never-opened nightclub, to make his dreams come true. Kira (who is emotionally deficient) and Sonny are plagued by three muses who want to eliminate Kira so they can become lead muses. They make her fall in love, breaking a big taboo, the punishment for which is death. Sound silly? It most definitely is. But Xanadu is enjoyable enough, and if you remember the songs you might even be thrilled.
Xanadu plays at the La Jolla Playhouse until Dec. 21. Powered by Sidelines