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May 23, 2012

'Xanadu' gets sparkling revival from Signature Theatre

First, there was an odd film in 1947 called "Down to Earth," watchable only for the divine Rita Hayworth as the Greek muse Terpsichore who falls in love with a mortal while helping him put on a show.

Then there was an odder, barely watchable film in 1980, "Xanadu," based on the Hayworth vehicle and featuring Olivia Newton-John as Terpsichore, this time descending from Olympus to lend inspiration to guy dreaming of a roller disco.

Finally, there came the 2007 Broadway musical "Xanadu," which spoofed all of that other stuff, and did so in awfully clever fashion.

That show, with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, has received a sparkling -- literally, given the plethora of disco balls -- revival by Signature Theatre.

It adds up to 90 minutes of ...

pure, sure escapism. And if you have at least a trace of the camp-humor gene, you'll experience a good deal of convulsive laughter, too.

This production's got more snaps than "RuPaul's Drag Race." The fun starts at the door, when ushers pass out glow sticks. Inside, Misha Kachman's colorful set continues the playful mood and provides a slick space for the absurd story -- and all the cool roller-skating -- to unfold.

Matthew Gardiner's direction is consistently imaginative and superbly paced; there is not a sagging moment, even when the musical itself is at its weakest (a 1940s flashback). Visual shtick that could land with a thud in the wrong hands sails here, including bits with a phone cord and a slow descent on a staircase.

Gardiner gets loads of personality from the performers, who handle the deliciously nutty dialogue ("That sign is a sign") with aplomb and also execute his imaginative choreography with near-uniform flair.

As Clio, the sweet muse who dons leg-warmers and assumes an Australian accent (of course) for her earthly manifestation, Erin Weaver rocks this disco dominion.

She's cute and funny, getting laughs just from the way she flutters her hands to cast a spell. She's got a bright, sturdy singing voice that rides those still-catchy Electric Light Orchestra melodies. On top of everything, Weaver's a mean roller-skater, gliding effortlessly in and out of scenes.

Like Keanu Reeves in full surfer-dude mode (Kathleen Geldard's costuming adds the finishing touch), Charlie Brady is spot-on as dim-bulb Sonny Malone, whose sidewalk drawing of the muses sets the plot spinning.

Harry A. Winter is disarming as Danny Maguire, the big bad businessman who has a change of heart. The bi-gender corps of muses does shining work, with particularly notable scenery-chewing (literally, at one point) by Sherri L. Edlelen, hot vocalism from Nova Y. Payton, and colorful drollery from Mark Chandler.

Other assets include the hard-working band, led from the keyboard by Gabriel Mangiante, and Chris Lee's vibrant lighting, which helps to make "Xanadu" a most diverting destination, a place where you'll just love being "suspended in time."

Performances continue through July 1.

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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