— Gaelan Beatty and Marlie Collins in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Xanadu. Photo by David Cooper.
Tie on that old headband, get your leg-warmers out of mothballs, and roll on over to Granville Island for the absolute cheesiest fun of the summer. Olivia Newton-John’s Xanadu might be one of the lamest movies of all time but the stage musical embraces the badness and transforms it into a witty, tongue-in-cheek delight. Dean Paul Gibson’s deliciously goofy Arts Club production might even make you forget the crappy weather.
In homage to the movie’s star, the play’s beautiful Greek muse affects an Aussie accent when she comes to earth in mortal disguise to help a frustrated artist get his mojo back—and open a roller disco. With the help and sometimes hindrance of her sister muses, Kira (fabulous newcomer Marlie Collins) inspires and falls in love with street-artist Sonny (Gaelan Beatty). They roller skate gracefully around the stage, defying god Zeus and developer Danny (both played by Simon Webb), who wants to tear down the theatre to build condos.
The movie soundtrack featured some pretty good Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra hits: “I’m Alive,” “Magic,” “All Over the World” and the title song. The play adds others by John Farrar and ELO’s Jeff Lynne – “Evil Woman,” “Strange Magic,” “Have You Never Been Mellow” (sung as an appeal to Zeus). The play mocks all things 1980s, including its own music, so the performances are intentionally broad and ironic. But this supremely talented cast can sing, dance and rock. We laugh with them at their tackiness and at the same time are moved by their artistry. It’s a killer combination.
Collins delivers a supremely accomplished performance as Kira, and hunky Beatty holds his own with her. Much of the fun comes from the chorus of muses: jealous Beatrice Zeilinger and her hilarious sidekick Bonnie Panych, who literally chews the scenery; Cailin Stadnyk and Stephanie Liatopoulos; and J. Cameron Barnett and Vincent Tong in drag. Both guys are comically expressive and terrific dancers. Barnett busts amazing moves throughout the show. Tong stars in a sensational song and dance number with Webb and Collins, showing off the classy side of Lisa Stevens’ choreography.
This Xanadu sparkles in every way. Bill Samples makes his four-piece band sound like nine. Kevin McAllister provides handsome projections and clever props, including a cool flying horse. Rebekka Sorenson’s extravagant costumes are big fun.
Surprisingly for such a spoofy piece, Xanadu even has a theme, something to do with the necessity and power of the arts. Strange magic indeed.