Life got you down? Head over to the Dayton Playhouse for a delightful dose of feel-good nostalgia in the form of “Xanadu,” the hilarious 2008 Tony Award-nominated musical comedy continuing its local premiere through Feb. 5.
Based on the campy 1980 movie musical of the same name starring Olivia Newton-John and breezily directed by Tina McPhearson, “Xanadu” brings Greek mythology to Los Angeles circa 1980. Beautiful muse Clio attempts to rejuvenate the creative impulses within struggling chalk artist Sonny Malone, whose artistic dream is to open a roller disco. Disguised as an Australian named Kira, Clio throws herself into her mission but not without interference. Her jealous, spiteful sisters Melpomene and Calliope try to thwart matters, but ultimately the bonds of true love and the sheer joy of artistic inspiration prevails.
Douglas Carter Beane’s snappy libretto, full of clever one-liners and tongue-in-cheek barbs, warmly pokes fun at the movie’s cheesy lore. Due to the weaknesses of the screenplay, Beane’s savvy decision to revise the tale with an emphasis on Greek mythology, musical theater conventions, and a cute pop culture sensibility is a welcomed relief. Still, the singular asset of the material remains the incredibly tuneful pop/rock/disco numbers by Academy Award nominee John Farrar (“Hopelessly Devoted to You”) and Jeff Lynne (of ‘70s rock band Electric Light Orchestra, a 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee). Memorable songs such as “I’m Alive,” “Magic,” “Suddenly,” “All Over the World,” and the dandy title tune are still hummable treats after nearly 40 years. I wish the cast would have attacked the score with more power and punch (it’s impossible to hide behind these songs), but any moments of vocal timidity are not a grave misstep.
Desmond Thomas, an engagingly dim-witted surfer dude-esque Sonny, and Playhouse newcomer Ellie Krug, a high school senior impressively navigating the whimsicality of Clio/Kira, are compatible lovebirds. Thomas is the stronger singer (rock ballad “Don’t Walk Away” is a highpoint), but Krug’s winsome vibrancy and grasp of many funny nuances is highly commendable. As Melpomene and Calliope respectively, standouts Amy Askins and Tamar Fishbein are a wonderfully comedic and vindictive duo, specifically offering a terrific take on “Evil Woman” winningly setting the show’s goofy tone. David Shough is fittingly sophisticated and silly as Danny McGuire, a real estate developer torn by greed and allured by memories of Kira in his youth. In particular, “Whenever You’re Away From Me,” a ‘40s flashback between Danny and Kira excellently choreographed by Annette Looper, finds Shough and Krug dazzlingly joined by a smoothly suave John Nussbaum as Young Danny. In multiple roles, Adee McFarland, Shanna Camacho, and Richard Lee Waldeck enjoyably complete the cast, a cohesive troupe impressively roller skating with a fair amount of ease and most significantly in the upbeat finale. Waldeck, as Cyclops, and Nussbaum, as a roller skating Centaur, notably add to the hysterical joy of “Have You Never Been Mellow.”
In addition to Looper, McPhearson’s first-rate artistic team includes music director Judy Manksy (leading a firm four-piece band), scenic designer Chris Newman (his colorful creation of Pegasus brings giddy charm to Krug’s rendition of “Suspended in Time”), lighting designer John Falkenbach, sound designer Bob Kovach, dialect coaches Fran Pesch and Annie Pesch, and costumers/wig makers Steve Burton and Tim Grewe (in collaboration with McPhearson).
For all its zany kookiness, “Xanadu” manages to deliver a warmhearted reminder that absolute fulfillment or contentment simply comes from loving someone and creating art. So, forget your Sunday clothes. Put on your leg warmers, roller skates, and glitter for an entertaining trip down memory lane.
“Xanadu” continues through Feb. 5 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The production is performed in 100 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors, students and military. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit online at www.daytonplayhouse.com