“Xanadu the Musical,” the Grand Theatre, through May 26, $24-$10, 801-957-3322 or www.the-grand.org
SALT LAKE CITY — You are due to view “Xanadu.” (And here’s the review.)
It’s a whimsical froth of a musical, sure to revitalize you from any doldrums, and as staged at the Grand Theatre, all of its unabashedly silly glee is wholly intact.
The 1980 movie, starring Olivia Newton-John as a Greek muse who helps a young schmuck open a roller disco, was a Razzie Award-winning, box-office blunder — and it remains of primary interest to the select few who believe popular culture was at its zenith between 1974 and 1979. The musical that opened on Broadway in 2007 reconstituted “Xanadu” to skewer the awfulness of the film with a winking affection for the mystical powers of legwarmers. Despite its laughable tone, the show won serious awards, including Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk honors and nominations for four top Tony Award honors.
At the Grand, “Xanadu” is directed with panache by Jim Christian, who also choreographs, in the inimitable style of Busby Berkeley meets Paula Abdul — on roller skates. The Weber State University professor restages his university production that won three national collegiate awards, and this version includes four student actors and several costume and design elements from the Ogden show.
As the muse Clio, who takes on a laughably faux Australian accent as Kira, who was known as Kitty the last time she graced the earth, Ashley Gardner Carlson radiates joy. She exudes a perfect balance of doe-eyed innocence with enough skill to play the part over the top without going over the top. And that’s a requirement for a camp musical. Her strong vocals impress in “Suddenly” and “Strange Magic." Sean Bishop brings the appropriate amount of earnest desire to his role as Sonny, the struggling (with reason!) artist. Clad in denim shorts, tube socks and a headband, Bishop is at his best with “Don’t Walk Away.”
But clear the stage for Camille Gerber Van Wagoner and Shelby Anderson. As sisters to Kira and leaders of the Mount Olympus muses, they play Melpomene and Calliope, respectively, and are a hoot and a holler — and a half. Van Wagoner, a Grand Theatre favorite, and Anderson, who played the role at Weber, are mercilessly funny, especially in “Evil Woman.”
These four lead players lead the large cast of 13, and an enthusiastic shout-out goes to the talented ensemble of accompanying muses to Melpomene and Calliope. Sean J. Carter, who recently played the ultra-serious role of Willie Johnson in the Grand’s “Miss Evers’ Boys,” takes an ultra-radical turn to play Hermes. Each of the muses is in on the joke and prances across the stage with committed abandon (or they should be committed and abandoned, you decide).
While the pace may lag at some points, most notably during set changes (although there are few set pieces to change), there’s an energetic song waiting in the wings, written by Electric Light Orchestra and John Farrar, who is guilty of being responsible for all of Newton-John’s smash singles. A highlight of the show is a tight four-piece, onstage band led by Kevin Mathie.
“Xanadu” has no elevated artistic pretense to be anything but sublimely ridiculous, but it’s doctor-prescribed to cure all that ails you. If your doctor is a red-nosed clown — and he's on roller skates.