Hayes Theatre Co, May 17
The 1980 film Xanadu starring a roller-skating Olivia Newton-John was a famous flop, so outrageously bad that it became a cult classic.
Gleefully spoofing the movie, Xanadu the Musical proved to be a ditzy delight when it premiered on Broadway in 2007. Unfortunately, this heavy-handed production directed and choreographed by Nathan M. Wright for Matthew Management in association with the Hayes Theatre Co steamrollers the heart and much of the comedy out of the sweetly silly show.
Set in 1980, Sonny is a depressed, creatively blocked street artist with more muscles than brain. Clio, a beautiful Greek muse and daughter of Zeus, descends from Mount Olympus to Venice Beach to save him. Donning leg-warmers, roller skates and an Australian accent, she calls herself Kira and inspires him to reach for the stars – or at least open a roller disco.
Meanwhile, two of Clio’s jealous sisters try to trick her, hoping she will incur Zeus’s wrath by falling in (forbidden) love with a mortal.
Writer Douglas Carter Beane has laced his wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, knowing script with jokes about 1980s culture and musicals. At one point, for example, Zeus observes that 1980 will be a cultural turning point: “Creativity shall remain stymied for decades. The theatre? They’ll just take some stinkeroo movie or some songwriter’s catalogue, throw it onstage and call it a show.”
The score, featuring music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne from ELO and John Farrar, is just as much fun, full as it is of chart-topping hits such as Magic, Evil Woman, All Over the World, Suddenly and Xanadu.
Designers Nathan Weyers (set), James Browne (costumes) and Simon Johnson (lighting) have created just the right kind of camp, cheesy 80s look for the show with lashings of colour, glitz and humour from hilarious sirens sporting sparkly mermaid tails, who glide onto stage on wheelie boards, to a cute bicycle Pegasus.
Wright’s lively, 80s-inspired choreography is also amusing, particularly the sequinned formations on skates at the end. His direction, however, lacks a lightness of touch. Everything is hammered out at the same relentless pace and volume, with the scenery-chewing cast dialling their performances up to 11. Some of the one-liners are thrown away, lost in motor-mouthed shouting. At other times, the humour is laboured. Either way, much of the comedy falls flat. The sound doesn’t help, with the volume on Andrew Bevis’s four-piece band cranked high.
As Kira and Sonny, Jaime Hadwen and Ainsley Melham both sing well but there’s little chemistry between them. In his first musical since leaving Hi-5, Melham’s comic timing is awry. Mugging in cartoony fashion, his blunt reading of the role diminishes the character’s goofy charm. Hadwen has a sweet presence though her strident Aussie accent dominates her portrayal.
The biggest laughs of the night come from Francine Cain and Jayde Westaby, both wonderful as Kira’s scheming sisters Calliope and and Melpomene.
Pitched right, Xanadu can be ridiculously funny. This production (which runs 90 minutes without interval) has its moments and sections of the audience clearly loved it, but I felt it pushes too hard and as a result never quite gets its skates on.
Xanadu the Musical plays at Hayes Theatre Co, Potts Point until June 12. Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au or Ticketmaster 1300 723 038
A version of this review ran online for Daily Telegraph Arts