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Musical on wheels: Xanadu brings over-the-top disco fun to ZACH

austin photo set: news_july_shelley_xanadu
Photo by: Kirk R. Root
austin photo set: news_july_shelley_xanadu
Photo by: Kirk R. Root
austin photo set: news_july_shelley_xanadu
Photo by: Kirk R. Root

Let's face it, there was a lot of cheesy music, movies and fashion in the 80s. If you want to bring all that back together in one campy, spoof-erific place, go see Xanadu at ZACH Theatre.

XANADU, The Musical is an over-the-top, roller-skating musical that spoofs the outrageously campy 1980s film starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. A beautiful muse descends from the heavens of Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach and inspires a struggling artist to create his biggest dream: the first roller disco.

Xanadu was one of Director Nick Demos' first introductions to the power of musical theater.

"The year is 1981," Demos recalls. "I am flipping through the channels on our new cable television and I see the most magnificent film ever, Xanadu. I am 10 years old and obsessed. This crazy world of campy musicals is my escape from prepubescent reality. Olivia Newton-John is my new hero and Gene Kelly my idol. I dance to the song 'Dancin',' I sing 'Suddenly the wheels are in motion' — I even buy a pair of roller skates with my allowance money so I can skate along. I am having the time of my life... I am really living!"

 "It is destined to be one of our most fun and entertaining shows ever and is a great way to celebrate the last Mainstage season on the Kleberg Stage before the Topfer Theatre opens with Ragtime next fall.” 

Demos' exuberance apparently carried over into adulthood. Although he admits that in retrospect the movie is poorly written, acted and directed — overall a notably terrible film — his version at ZACH takes the musical a step further into the absurd, and a good deal of its rollicking good time is the fun it pokes at the 1981 film.

The audience is clearly along for the ride from the very first number. As the muses that the main character, a failed artist named Sonny, has painted on a Venice Beach wall come to life and begin to sing and dance, the spectators are humored and entranced. It helps that every muse is over-the-top scenery chewing, as if competing in some demented drag queen show.

Speaking of drag queens, the two male cross-dressing muses provide much of the gags and laughter from the audience. Kira, the main character played by Newton-John in the film, is a sweet role that actress Jill Blackwood smartly adds a major ditz factor to. The best part of the performance is that all of the cast lets the audience in on the joke, playing directly to them.

"What's with all the giggling and cackling" asks one muse, Calliope (played by Lara Wright). "It's like children's theater, for 40-year-old gays," she screeches, pointing right at a few audience members. The fact that the audience is clearly a participant in the satire sits well, and carries over after the performance when everyone is invited to stay for a roller disco dance party, Xanadu style, after each Friday and Saturday night show.

Matthew Redden as Sonny Malone is spot-on as a dim-witted surfer dude; and Rick Roemer as Danny Maguire actually makes you feel, during his song and dance numbers, as if you are watching Gene Kelly.

 “I’ve never been a fan of the film, but I found this stage parody absolutely irresistible on Broadway with its very funny, campy Douglas Carter Beane script that has its tongue planted firmly in cheek," says Producing Artistic Director, Dave Steakley.

"Jill Blackwood is perfectly cast in this affectionate send-up of Olivia Newton-John — vocally, the resemblance is astonishing and she is hilarious. It is destined to be one of our most fun and entertaining shows ever and is a great way to celebrate the last Mainstage season on the Kleberg Stage before the Topfer Theatre opens with Ragtime next fall.”

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Xanadu runs through September 2. Performances are held Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on ZACH’s intimate Kleberg Stage. The GLBT Wilde Party with pre-show mixer is Thursday, August 2. To order tickets, call 512-476-0541 ext. 1 or visit www.zachtheatre.org. Tickets range from $25-$55. Student Tickets are $18 one hour before show time (with valid ID). 

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