Review: ‘Xanadu Live’

Some delightfully good bad acting -- harder to pull off than you think -- enlivens "Xanadu Live," which pays campy, lip-synching tribute to the so-bad-it's-great 1980 movie while satirizing it at the same time. This lighter-than-air frolic into nostalgic innocence plays like an extended "Saturday Night Live" sketch, but it sustains its entertainment value.

Some delightfully good bad acting — harder to pull off than you think — enlivens “Xanadu Live,” which pays campy, lip-synching tribute to the so-bad-it’s-great 1980 movie while satirizing it at the same time. This lighter-than-air frolic into nostalgic innocence plays like an extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch, but it sustains its entertainment value and manages to brim over with its contagiously feel-good silliness.

“Xanadu” starred Olivia Newton-John as a muse who comes to Earth and falls for an aspiring painter with bad hair. It is, to put it bluntly, an awful, awful film, worthy only of the campiest of reverence. Indeed, the film does have a cult following who adore its delusional dreams-come-true love story and its utter guilelessness. And don’t forget the really ridiculous costumes, the roller skates, the pastel-colored special effects, and the pop songs, some of which — “Magic,” “Suddenly,” and the title song — climbed the charts in their day, about the same time Abba was popular before getting forgotten before getting lionized on Broadway.

As the muse Kira, or rather as Olivia Newton-John playing Kira, Cheryl Lynn Bowers gets the angelic look, Australian accent and happy emptiness just right. Newton-John was the headliner of the film, but not really the lead. That honor fell to the genuinely obscure Michael Beck, whose one other known film credit, “The Warriors,” gets visual reference here. Dustin James skewers Beck’s performance as Sonny Malone, and in doing so gives what’s really an excellent comic turn, dippy and corny and laced with ideal timing. He’s matched by Kenneth Alan Williams, who plays an older Gene Kelly as a musician with a long-lost dream of opening a nightclub. Williams, who also produces this show with his wife Amy Pietz, keeps his chin forever angled upward, his teeth forever gleaming, and his toes forever aching to twinkle.

The rest of the large supporting cast floats in and out on skates to deliver props, or breaks out into the various dance sequences, choreographed by Brian-Paul Mendoza with a nice nod to the era of the Solid Gold Dancers. It’s a bit unfortunate that, while Adam Stockhausen’s set finds creative ways to capture filmic effects on stage — while never trying to do them seriously — he’s also pinned in the dancing by splitting the space into two levels. There are moments when the show really wants to take off into its own world — but it doesn’t have the room. Paul Spadone’s costumes are relentlessly, and lovingly, absurd.

Xanadu Live

The Gascon Center Theater, Culver City; 75 seats; $20

Production

A Xanadu Live Prods., Amy Pietz and Kenneth Alan Williams presentation of a one-act musical conceived, adapted and directed by Annie Dorsen, based on the screenplay by Richard Danus and Murk Rubel.

Creative

Choreography, Brian-Paul Mendoza; set, Adam Stockhausen; costumes, Paul Spadone; lighting, Leif Gantvoort; sound, Ray Guarna; casting, Mara Casey, Jami Rudofsky, Sara Isaacson. Opened Oct. 19, 2001; reviewed Oct. 26; closes Nov. 11. Running time: 1 HOUR, 10 MIN.

Cast

Kira - Cheryl Lynn Bowers
Sandra - Andrea Gall
Sonny - Malone Dustin James
Helen - Laura Lee
Ritchie - Martin McClendon
Simpson - Paul Schackman
Danny - Kenneth Alan Williams
Heavenly Voice Male - Paxton Whitehead
Heavenly Voice Female - Maggie Blanc
With: Amie Barsky, Lissa Baggaley, Kamilah Barrett, Victoria DeMare, Carrie Frymer, Detra Jones, Jill Miller, Ingrid Schaffenburg, Fernando Christopher, Sammy Espinoza, David Gamboa, Hilliard Guess, Jarety Christopher Gardner, Tom Gilligan
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