Before we start, I have a confession to make. It’s 1981. The album Physical by Olivia Newton-John has just been released. I vaguely know who she is from Dad’s collection of old vinyl albums. The fresh-faced country singer of Me and Bobby McGee fame. This, however, is not my father’s Olivia. Blush. Yes, I had a crush on ONJ! (Settle down, I was only 15. Imagine my delight when I later discover Grease). I mention this because Saturday’s matinee has these long forgotten, adolescent memories, ahem, flooding back.
Now, to describe the plot of Xanadu as naff would be an understatement of mythical proportions. Based on the 1980 movie starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, and Michael Beck, a demi-god comes down to Earth to inspire a chalk artist to open a roller disco. Two of her sisters, put out that they were overlooked for top Muse duties, curse her to fall in love with this mortal which, as all good classical scholars know, is against almighty Zeus’ rules. Okay then.
None of this matters. One. Little. Bit.
None of this matters. One. Little. Bit.
Xanadu the Musical knows exactly what it is and embraces the kitsch and cheesiness with such a good-natured sense of fun and cheekiness that you can’t help but be charmed. It also features songs from the aforementioned Olivia Newton-John as well as ELO. Songs I know by heart. Songs I was tempted to sing along to. There are also original numbers written for the musical. Plus this, performers on rollerskates!
The first thing that strikes me is that the band is located on an elevated platform tucked into a corner, stage left. In front of them are the three ‘pit singers’ (Paul Taylor-Byrne, Sylvia Mellor and Vikki Walker)… or ‘anti-pit singers’ as the director referred to them afterwards. They not only lend some vocal oomph but are part of the choreography and, at times, amusingly seem to be ‘judging’ events on stage below them. The band, led by Musical Director Kate McIntosh (also on keyboards) and Taui Pinker (keyboards), Vlad Sturdy (guitar) and Nikki Gray (drums) are in cracking form and have fun with that unmistakeable early 80s sound prevalent here.
Drue Goodwin plays Sonny, the artist with big dreams, who falls in love with his Muse and even travels to Mount Olympus to rescue her from Zeus’ wrath. As all good mortals do. It’s an exuberant performance and Goodwin is great playing the character with a nice mix of cockiness and naivety. He also sports (to my ears) a convincing American accent… and an outfit that could only have been worn in the 80’s! Vocally he is stronger in the more rock oriented numbers though has nice moments in Don’t Walk Away and Suspended in Time.
Kimberley Harris shines as Clio aka Kira who descends from Mount Olympus (once again as we discover) to inspire the artistic ambitions of a mortal. She gets to show off a thick Aussie accent in her human disguise as Kira but also, briefly, an American one in the flashback with Danny. Impressively she is on rollerskates for the majority of the show - a skill I later learnt took her 4 months to master. Of course, she has the unenviable task of following ONJ in singing well known numbers such as Magic, Xanadu and the duet Suddenly. She does these well but it’s original numbers such as Suspended in Time where she wings her way to face Zeus on Pegasus (a great prop) where Harris really comes into her own.
The supporting cast are terrific, especially Rachel Monamy (Melpomene) and Elethea Sartorelli (Calliope) as the jealous muses who get up to all kinds of mischief. Their work in the ELO classics Evil Woman and Strange Magic is hilarious and they threaten to steal the show with cackling good performances. Ryan Taaffe (also the director) plays Danny, the older version of Sonny, who was visited by Clio decades before. He gives a nicely gruff performance before doubling as Zeus himself whose judgement will be swayed by a loopy argument put by one of Zeus’ wives.
The ensemble comprises Hillary Readings (also the choreographer), Brooke Pimlott, Allen Blachford, and Jamie Harrold. The dance numbers are good fun and the ensemble add so much colour and movement with great vocal support and humour. The finale with the majority of the cast on rollerskates singing Xanadu is a suitably over-the-top spectacle. A featured Blachford gets his Gene Kelly on with a lovely tap routine during Whenever You’re Away From Me which is a highlight with Harris looking the glamorous 40s starlet in Danny’s flashback.
Above all, this is funny and utterly entertaining. I was having a great time with the show. So much so that apparently my nickname backstage was Chuckles! There is a lot of talk throughout about artistic inspiration with several in-jokes that tickled my fancy. There’s also a killer pot shot at Andrew Lloyd Webber and who doesn’t like those? Naff said.
Directed by Ryan Taaffe with Musical Direction by Kate McIntosh, Book by Douglas Carter with Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, Xanadu stars Drue Goodwin, Kimberley Harris, Rachel Monamy, Elethea Sartorelli, Ryan Taaffe, Hillary Readings, Brooke Pimlott, Allen Blachford and Jamie Harrold with band and pit singers Kate McIntosh, Taui Pinker, Vlad Sturdy, Nikki Gray, Paul Taylor-Byrne, Sylvia Mellor and Vikki Walker. There are three shows left at the Koorliny Arts Centre in Kwinana, 22-23 August at 8pm with a 2pm matinee on the 23rd.
Get your rollerskates on and go see it!