Review - Xanadu (The Musical): infectiously funny from Phoenix Ensemble
Xanadu (The Musical)
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne & John Farrar
Directed by Justin Tubb-Hearne
Presented by the Phoenix Ensemble
The Tin Shed
Season: 2-24 February. Bookings: phoenixensemble.com.au or phone 07) 3103 1546
Xanadu is set in 1980, Venice Beach, LA — Sonny Malone, an artist, is dissatisfied with his chalk mural of seven Greek Muses and is about to commit suicide. On Mount Olympus, Clio, the youngest and perkiest of the Muses, convinces her six sisters (two of whom are men) to travel to Venice Beach through the mural to inspire Sonny.
Zeus’s rules require that Muses must always be disguised from mortals, so Clio changes her name to Kira, puts on leg warmers and roller skates and bungs on an Australian accent.
However, Clio has two jealous sisters, Melpomene and Calliope, who plot to cause her banishment by making Clio break one of Zeus’s rules: falling in love with a mortal.
Xanadu is a musical comedy based on the 1980 film of the same name that starred Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. It did not do all that well at the box office, but became a cult classic because of the soundtrack. The musical keeps that fantastic soundtrack adding an extra couple of Electric Light Orchestra songs to the mix: Strange Magic and Evil Woman, plus Farrar’s Have You Never Been Mellow.
Sonny Malone was played by Anthony Jacobsen, and while his programme photograph made him look quite young compared to the other lead, Clio/Kira, played by Bonnie Fawcett, they were very well paired on stage.
Bonnie has a lovely voice, and did justice to all the songs, while skating around the stage at the same time. Anthony also had a pleasant voice, which he let go now and again. Most of the time, however, he was very quiet when singing, I think relying on the microphone too much.
Ian Moore played Danny Maguire, a hard-hearted businessman who owns an abandoned theatre, which the inspired Sonny wants to turn into a roller disco. Ian has a powerful voice and did not really require the mic at all. He was a pleasure to listen to. The two jealous sisters, Melpomene and Calliope were played by Shelley Scott and Laura Baker respectively. They were a devilish class act as they slunk around after Clio, hatching their sinister plan.
The rest of the Muses (Molly Campbell, Bethany Warnes-Jones, Beau Wharton and Michael McNish) support the ‘leads’ magnificently as the story unravels. The cast is rounded out by only four others known collectively as the Greek Chorus and who play various characters throughout the musical, such as Cupid, mythological beasties, and Danny’s secretaries.
The set design (Justin Tubb-Hearne) was so well put together in such a small space. Every panel on the wrap-around walled background was either a draped opening, opened and closed as doors or windows or spun around. The central piece, set between two Greek pillars and slightly raised from the floor, spun to reveal different backdrops and brought the six Muses, in the same pose as Sonny’s drawing (which was projected on to the brick wall) to ‘life’. To the very left of stage was the alcove for the musicians, draped as you would expect a Greek theatre to be. Black glittery drapes, covered two large entrances on both stage right and left. And there was still room to skate!
The costumes by Kirsten McLean were sensational. There were just so many ranging from the Muses’s Greek outfits, the Greek mythological creatures, to the 80’s fashions (one very reminiscent of Madonna’s character in Desperately Seeking Susan. Clio had the largest wardrobe and was required to do some very quick changes. She obviously got her ‘skates on’ for some of them, because they were so seamless (leaving stage left to appear stage right in a completely different outfit right down to the shoes or skates). There is also one scene where Sonny is in a phone booth which Clio pushes across the stage. He wasn’t wearing skates when he went in, but he is when he comes out – still working that one out.
The script for this show is full of quirky, cliched, corny jokes and pranks. There is also interaction with the audience and there are a few seats you don’t want to be in.
This was my first time reviewing a show for Phoenix. I was impressed by the use of space in such a limited space (the theatre only holds 90 seats). I thoroughly enjoyed Xanadu. It is so hard not to laugh, it is that funny. My two favourites on stage were Shelley and Laura (Melpomene and Calliope). Their wickedness was just infectious. I also liked the added touch of gold glitter in Michael’s beard (Muse Thalia). Congratulations to the Director and his talented cast for such an entertaining show.