"This is like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people."
So says a malicious Olympian muse as she slinks into the shadows of a roller disco, ready to watch her demigoddess companion unseat their leader, a spirited blond in Barbie-pink skates and leg warmers. This is one of the many winks to the audience peppered throughout Xanadu, a Tony-nominated musical adapted from the famously calamitous Olivia Newton-John movie. And it's a pretty perfect summation of the source material's strange travels.
The musical's provenance dates all the way back to the respectable 1930s play Heaven Can Wait, which mutated into the '40s movie Down to Earth, which somehow inspired the 1980 movie Xanadu, which has been resurrected from infamy by this stage version: a full-circle return to the floodlights, this time as a neon exercise in postmodern camp, complete with gender-bending and plenty of inside-theater bonhomie.
As in the movie, Electric Light Orchestra songs help sell the tale of a sparkly deity named Clio who emerges from an artist's Venice Beach mural with her eight sisters, all of them muses born from Zeus. It's Clio's job to inspire Sonny Malone, a struggling muralist, to turn an abandoned building into a roller disco/cultural center. Writer Douglas Carter Beane took artistic license for the rest of the story, adding more ELO hits and an important subplot about two rebellious muses and generally playing up the Olympian stuff.
The Broadway show began touring in 2008, but no South Florida concert halls would touch it with a ten-foot Greek pillar. Luckily, West Boca's Slow Burn Theatre has taken up the cause, producing a colorful, fun, and intelligently cast rendition of this brazenly insubstantial comedy.
There is not a dud among the local nine-member cast, led by Lindsey Forgey as the bubbly Clio and Rick Pena as the single-celled Sonny. Larry Buzzeo is dapper as always in the role of Danny Maguire, a real estate mogul who strikes a deal with Sonny to convert his abandoned theater into the Xanadu roller disco (believe me, I feel just as silly typing this as you do reading it). Conor Walton and Jerel Brown earn a lot of laughs as the two male "sisters" — another one of Beane's theatrical revisions — but it's Renata Eastlick and Mary Gundlach, as the evil muses, who stand out most among their castmates. The big-haired Eastlick is bold and loud, oppressive and expressive in the way villains were in old Disney fairy tales, albeit with the necessary comic self-awareness. Gundlach plays in a lower key, but her Kristen Wiig-ish facial expressions and deadpan delivery are no less on-target.
Slow Burn's set is a simple, multipurpose, Olympian stone structure that sits in for Venice Beach, Danny Maguire's office, the roller disco, and Zeus' celestial crib. The design leaves something to be desired, but it looks fairly consistent with the set from the Broadway show. If this version of Xanadu doesn't always reach the high levels of hilarity for which it aims, it certainly hits enough of them, and I can't imagine a regional theater presenting a stronger production on a budget this lean. In a ludicrous show where sloppiness is forgivable — if not ingrained in the source material's DNA — this Xanadu skates along at a winning pace.