visitorium

A Million Lights are Dancing!

In Theatre on April 30, 2012 at 7:19 am

Nadine Thornhill is a celebrated playwright and actor, sex-advice columnist, fabulous fashionista and six-hundred times more popular than me, so I’m hoping that my stats will go through the ROOF with this, the first ever guest-review here at the Visitorium by her own lovely self.  I thank her greatly for heartily taking this assignment, in return for my own schmoopy guest-post on HER blog a few weeks back.  Feed back on this one, folks…Nadine is worth your love.

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A Million Lights are Dancing!  – A review of Xanadu, by Nadine Thornhill

Kevin knows me well.

Kevin knows my love of seventies music in general and The Electric Light Orchestra in particular. Kevin knows that I have a personal mission to bring back the roller disco. That’s why Kevin knew that sending me to see Nepean High School’s recent production of XANADU would be a dream guest blogger assignment.

Xanadu is a hit Broadway musical based on the 1980’s musical fantasy film by the same name.  Now make no mistake. It is one hot mess of a movie. Nonetheless, I had mad love for this flick as a child and the soundtrack remains a favourite to this day. I re-watched it a few weeks ago with my partner and the fact that it was more ridiculous than I’d remembered made the experience that much sweeter.

Xanadu is the story of Sonny, a struggling painter who has lost his artistic direction and Kira, a Greek muse disguised as a mortal who inspires Sonny to open the ultimate art house/roller rink on the Santa Monica Pier. And did I mention that Kira (and her eight muse sisters) came to LA through a portal in a graffiti mural? And also that there’s an old dude name Danny who owns the site Sonny wishes to transform, but he won’t give Sonny access to the property, but then he totally does, and oh, by the way, Kira was also Danny’s muse like 40 years ago, but she went by a different name then?

Oh, Xanadu. I love you so!

The film version of Xanadu is funny because it was so cluelessly sincere in its execution. The 2007 stage adaptation is well aware of its absurdity. It’s all about the sarcasm and the self-referential humour. Example?  In the film Kira is portrayed by Australian pop-star/actor Olivia Newton-John. The fact that Kira has a heavy Aussie accent despite being a muse of Ancient Greece is never addressed. In the stage version, not only is Kira’s accent acknowledged, it’s a running gag throughout the script.  Love ballads like “Suddenly” are now parodies of the film version, and the scenes that the film intended to be heart-wrenching are now gut-busting.

So how did the cast at Nepean High handle this homage to the best of 1980’s dreck? Remarkably well. It’s worth noting that the movie Xanadu was released almost twenty years before some of this cast was even born. Nonetheless they nailed the aesthetics of the period beautifully. More importantly they captured the balls-out enthusiasm that makes Xanadu so utterly lovable, despite its flaws.

Evelyn Bartlett and Peter Sarty were intensely likeable as star-crossed protagonists, Kira and Sonny. They also get serious props for spending a good deal of their stage time acting and dancing on roller skates. According to the program, the cast trained with the Ottawa Roller Derby. Bartlett and Sarty clearly took the lessons to heart, because they were wheeling around the stage like seasoned pros. As I mentioned earlier, the script requires Kira to speak with an over-the-top Australian accent. It’s a tough thing to speak in an accent not your own – let alone a bad accent – and still be understood. Bartlett struggled with the challenge in certain spots, but that’s a minor quibble about an overall strong performance.

Robyn Campbell and Emma Makin play Kira’s envious muse sisters, Melpomene and Calliope and holy hot peppers, these gals can SING! I had a double-squee moment when they lit into “Evil Woman”. First, it’s not in the original film but is my favourite ELO song EVER!  Second of all Campbell and Makin sang the hell out of that shizz!  Well done, ladies. You have put my karaoke version to shame!

I also have to give props to Paul Best as aging real estate curmudgeon turned aging roller disco enthusiast, Danny. The tough part of older characters in high school productions is that even with judicious application of grey hair paint, it’s hard not to see the young person underneath. But I totally bought Best as an older man. I belly laughed more than once during his introductory scene as he barked random authority into multiple desk phones.

Finally, a shout out NHS orchestra members, Greg Akeson, Devyn Pope, Kurt Grunsky, Joshua Yasbeck, Connor Smith and Connor Wong. As I said, the soundtrack is one of my favourites – I still listen to “All Over The World” and “Magic” on almost a weekly basis. When I’m that familiar with a particular recording of a song, I often balk at anything not that version (the Saturday Night Fever episode of Glee made me SUPER frowny!), but Nepean’s band totally did it for me! I was seat-dancing super hard during most of the musical numbers. I’m going to assume the woman next to me kept looking around because she’d spotted some friends, not because she wanted to change seats.

My only real complaint about Xanadu really has nothing to do with the NHS production, but with the musical itself. As I mentioned the stage version of Xanadu is far more self-aware than the movie. It knows its roots, it understands its flaws, and unlike Sonny with Kira, this play is much, much smarter than its inspiration. These are probably not bad things – particularly for anyone who’s never seen the film. But I have major nostalgia for the film. I did miss the sincerity of the original Xanadu  It was charming, not because it was clever, but because it had no idea how dreck it truly was.

But in the end staff and students at Nepean High School made me laugh, made me dance and made me pop in the Xanadu soundtrack as soon I as got in the car to drive home, which I suspect is exactly what Kevin intended when he sent me to see this show.

Like I said – the man knows me well!

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