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Theater preview: Comic proof that the Bard of Avon authored 'Xanadu'

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

The cast of "Xanadu" includes Shelby Andersen (Calliope/Aphrodite), Sean Bishop (Sonny Malone), Kim Blackett (Danny Maguire), Camille Gerber Van Wagoner (Melpomene/Medusa) and Ashley Gardner Carlson (Kira/Clio).

Ely Martinez

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SALT LAKE CITY — If William Shakespeare had written a musical, would it have been “Xanadu”?

“Of course this is the musical Shakespeare wishes he had written,” says Jim Christian, with tongue firmly in cheek. “It bears virtually all of his earmarks in one shamelessly delightful piece.”

The Grand Theatre director of the preposterous fun that is “Xanadu” offers these possible evidences of the Bard of Avon’s lost manuscript:

1. You have star-crossed lovers from two completely different worlds.

2. It pays homage to Greek classicism and mythology.

3. The humor is painted in both broad farcical strokes and searing social commentary.

4. It incorporates elements of magic and mysticism.

5. Souls, hearts and lives are in jeopardy.

6. Although history offers no documentation to support it, it's well known that Will would have strapped on a pair of roller skates the first chance he had.

Of course, the world’s greatest author of the world's greatest dramas never considered writing musical theater, but these beliefs are an indicator of the goofy adaptation of the roller-disco “Xanadu” movie that starred Olivia Newton-John. The 1980 release was “universally bludgeoned by critics,” Christian says.

Broadway’s “Xanadu,” in reality written by comic playwright Douglas Carter Beane, opened in New York in 2007. It was the stunning winner of an Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award, along with nominations for four Tony Awards.

“In assembling the stage musical, the adapters celebrated the joyous mess of a movie with all of the giddy mischief of ‘Saturday Night Live’ at its very best,” Christian says, now with a straight face. “The premise is ludicrous; the approach is screwball; and the result is one of the freshest, brightest evenings that a modern audience can spend at the theater.”

The comedy fuses Greek mythology and the infamous disco-on-roller-skates nightclub scene, with droll appearances from Medusa, Pegasus, Cyclops and a Centaur thrown in.

As the director of “Xanadu,” Christian feels like “a kid in a candy store with a magical elixir that allows you to gorge and gorge without ever suffering a stomachache. It’s one sugary treat after another and filled with all the color, light and magic that only the muses could inspire.”

If theatergoers aren’t yet persuaded to experience the giddy joy at the Grand Theatre, Christian says, “You owe it to yourself to experience this flashback to the ’80s. Throw some product into your hair, pull on your leg warmers, Members Only jacket and parachute pants, and boogie on down to ‘Xanadu.’ ”

If you go: “Xanadu the Musical”

Where: the Grand Theatre

When: May 10 through 26 at 7:30 p.m., with select Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.

How much? $24-$10, with student discounts

Tickets: 801-957-3322 or www.the-grand.org

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