Review by Shawn Maus
In Xanadu did someone, other than Kubla Kahn, decree: make an over-the-top 80s movie into a theatrical parody.
Xanadu follows the journey of a magical and beautiful Greek muse, Kira (Cassie Maurer), who descends from the heavens of Mount Olympus to Venice Beach, California in 1980 on a quest to inspire a struggling artist, Sonny (quintessential California dude, Leo Carmody) to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time – the first ROLLER DISCO! (Hey, it’s 1980!) But, when Kira falls into forbidden love with the mortal Sonny, her jealous sisters take advantage of the situation, and chaos and over-the-top comedy abounds.
On opening night at the College-Conservatory of Music, Xanadu was, to quote Zeus (Tyler Martin), “This is the 80s. The muses are in retreat. They’ll just take some stinkaroo movie throw it on stage and call it a show!”
I don’t think it was a stinkaroo of a show, but it was hard for this reviewer to decide whether I liked it or not. What didn’t appeal to me:
The script is like a bad SNL skit written by a drunken Mel Brooks trying too hard to spoof a critically panned movie. But, that’s not the fault of the CCM theater makers.
I also had issues with the sound quality. Let’s not factor in the masks. We should be grateful we have live theater, and I’m willing to forgive muddled sound due to masks. A few weeks ago, I reviewed the CCM show “Our Town” and was thoroughly delighted with the show and didn’t have trouble hearing the actors delivering their lines. Not so with Xanadu. The synthetic sounds of the orchestra were just too overpowering for the masked actors to overcome. Cassie Maurer, who had double and triple duty with her character having to pull off an Australian accent, and some others, but it all was lost in what I’m sure were great comedic lines.
Now what did appeal to me:
The CCM stage is designed like the ancient Greek theaters – a round stage about three quarters surrounded by the audience – complete with Greek columns. The media design projecting Sonny’s mural is spectacular as it dissolves during a rainstorm and makes for some fascinating scenic changes on the “backdrop” to simulate clouds.
Leo Carmody was the shining light in this production with just the right amount of beef-cake, skimpy cut-off denim shorts and mocking tired conventions of the Baywatch-like artist. His lines and singing were clear and hit every note from harmony to comedy.
Tyler Martin channeled Andy Richter as smooth-talking and singing real estate tycoon Danny Maguire. Later in the final scene, he transforms into an amusing mock up of Lawrence Olivier’s Zeus from the other 80s movie Clash of the Titans (yes, the script called for that but Martin stole the scene not because one couldn’t hear the lines of the wives, but he genuinely had great comedic timing and made brave choices in his acting). Throw in two jealous muse-sisters (hilarious Kassi McMillan as Melpomone and steal-every-scene-in-a-fantastic-way Chesney Mitchell as Calliope) it was almost like watching Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy from Hocus Pocus. Mitchell will make you laugh-out-loud numerous times in what is far and away one of the funniest performances in this production.
The hard working cast members round out the Greek chorus of Muses, Sirens and other mythical creatures. But, Eli Owens nearly brought the house down with his turn as Young Danny with some of the best tapping dancing I’ve seen in a long time. He gave it his all and more while channeling Gene Kelly to tap dance on top of a desk and does a flip off the edge like he was performing in an MGM musical for the simple delight of dancing.
Overall, this production is, as one of the Muses proclaim, “This is like children’s theater for 40 year old gay men.” Not a very good line to keep in today’s cancel culture world. (But hey, the show is set in the 80s).
It’s a good, old-fashioned campy sendup. When it’s all said and done, I felt, like Zeus, if we continue to have hackneyed movies turned into theatre “Creativity shall remain stymied for decades.” (Xanadu premiered on Broadway in 2007.)
Xanadu runs October 21-24 and October 28-31 at the Patricia Corbett Theater, CCM Village, University of Cincinnati. For ticket information call (513) 556-4183 or https://ccmonstage.universitytickets.com/.
Shawn Maus is a screenwriter, television producer, theatre director, and old-time radio enthusiast. A number of his screenplays have been optioned and/or are under development. He is also a director for commercials, industrial videos and a voice over actor. He has been a reviewer for LCT since 2015.