In A Director’s Viewpoint of Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of Xanadu

By Jay Horne 

History by Wikipedia 

In a Directors Viewpoint
of the Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of Xanadu

By Jay Horne

History by Wikipedia

Xanadu is a musical comedy with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, based on the 1980 film of the same name, which was, in turn, inspired by the 1947 Rita Hayworth film Down to Earth, a sequel to the 1941 movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was an adaptation of the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall. The title is a reference to the poem Kubla Khan, or A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Xanadu is the name of the Chinese province where Khan establishes his pleasure garden in the poem.

The musical began previews on Broadway on May 23, 2007, at the Helen Hayes Theatre and opened on July 10, 2007. It ran for over 500 performances. Xanadu earned an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and was also nominated for four Tony Awards and six Drama Desk Awards, winning one for Best Book of a Musical. The US tour officially began on December 15, 2009, in the Orange County Performing Arts Center. It also played in the Philippines, Australis, London, and South Korea.

At this time, I would like to share with you all what Director/Choreographer Courtney Lane Self thought about in taking on this show.

Xanadu, the movie, was a box office flop. But it managed to create a cult following generally based around its hit soundtrack and outlandish mythical storyline. This led to the Broadway musical adaptation in 2007 which transformed the seriousness with which the movie took itself into a playful parody of a look back into the early 80s. The musical was a runaway hit, garnering multiple unexpected Tony nominations and a respectable run on Broadway. Somehow, the musical found a perfect way to pay homage to its source material.

“But here’s the part you may not know about: In 1797, Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed the unfinished poem Kubla Khan upon waking from a drug-induced fever dream. In this poem, Coleridge uses his runaway imagination to describe a mythic place called Xanadu. Interestingly, the inspiration of Xanadu is a place that did exist: the Chinese city of Shangdu. This was a beautiful paradise built by the ruler of the Mongol Empire and the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan. It was a ‘hidden’ summer capital of the empire that was apart from everyday life at the time, and while not specifically a utopia, Xanadu has gone on to stand for this kind of escape—a place to strive for and dream about. During a war-torn time in China’s history, Shangdu seemed like an impossible place that was much needed to remind the ruler and his people of the beautiful things in life that are worth living for.

In the musical, all the muses seek to achieve ‘Xanadu’ even though none of them know exactly what it means. They are forbidden from falling in love and from creating their own art, and after our lead character, Kira, finds herself pursuing both, she realizes she is willing to sacrifice ever experiencing the gift of Xanadu. Unsurprisingly, it was in this very willingness to risk it all that she realizes Xanadu is now hers: the marriage of creativity, inspiration, and love. And if love not hate and creation not destruction isn’t a mandate for our times, I don’t know what is. It seems this effervescent hit parody of a flop film also has something quite universal for us to take away.

“It was a goofy movie, and it is definitely a hokey musical, but its spirit is great. We find that the ‘Xanadu’ our characters are searching to create in the musical is in so many ways made up of the ingredients we all strive to find in life.

“I hope you have a great time tonight and I wish everyone to find their own personal Xanadu.

“~Courtney Laine Self, Director/Choreographer”

Thank you, Courtney, for your most prolific and interesting thoughts on the history of Xanadu and what it all means.

Before I get into ABT’s production of Xanadu, I’ll give you a short synopsis of the Broadway version that Director Courtney Laine Self says that she followed exactly. It is 1980, and chalk artist Sonny Malone is dissatisfied with his sidewalk mural of the Greek Muses (daughters of head god Zeus), and he determines to kill himself. Meanwhile on Mount Olympus, Clio (pronounced kley-o”), the youngest, perkiest Muse, convinces her 7 sisters (three of whom are men) to travel to Venice Beach, California, rising out of the sidewalk mural to inspire Sonny. Zeus’s rules require that Muses must always be disguised from mortals. Clio has the idea to wear roller skates, leg warmers, and sport an Australian accent. All the other Muses agree, and Clio changes her name to something contemporary – “Kira”. Quickly inspired (magic) Sonny decides that he can combine all the arts and “something athletic” into one spectacular entertainment:  a roller disco. What follows is laughter on wheels. If ever you hoped to feel inspiration, do not miss this terrific, wildly fun-filled musical!

The sets or sets were basically simple: a sidewalk area that also covers Mt. Olympus where Zeus and the Muses reside, also an office, and a roller dome area, all by drops and some stagehands.

Folks, this is one very fast paced, shall we say “whack-a-doodle” show, with disco-type music and choreography. All in this small cast of seven leads and supporting roles plus two Ensemble members. The choreography by all was done with absolute perfection, and the wild and wacky characters they all portrayed were superb.

There are many very entertaining musical numbers such as “Evil Woman,” “Dancing,” and “Strange Magic” in Act I and in Act II, “Fool” and “Have You Never Been Mellow.” As far as what I thought about a showstopper number, I’d say “Dancing” in Act I and “Have You Never Been Mellow” in Act II. Folks, these are not musical numbers that you will leave the theatre singing or whistling, but you’ll never forget what these wonderful performers did in bringing them superbly to life.

At this moment in time, I would like to acknowledge all that contributed to this very entertaining musical, Xanadu.

Sal Pavia (Sonny Malone) – Welcome back to ABT, enjoyed your characters performance, vocals, and roller-skating numbers. You certainly deserve being a member of Actor’s Equity Association.

Liz Fallon (Clio/Kira) – I have enjoyed all your performances at ABT. Once more you have given a professional performance: character, vocals, and now roller-skating! Welcome back to ABT, Liz.

Julie Galorenzo (Melpomene/Medusa) – Welcome to ABT. You gave a very entertaining dual performance in every respect. Congratulations.

Bill Saunders (Danny Maguire/Zeus) – Welcome back. Just a well-done performance in both your characters. Super job, very believable.

Thetis, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Hera on Mt. Olympus

Hannah Clarke Levine (Euterpe) – Welcome to ABT, very good performance in all respects.

Erika Wasko (Erato) – Welcome back to ABT. Good character in all you did, wonderful addition as a Muse and Siren.

Brian Graziani (Thalia/Siren/Young Danny) – Welcome to ABT. Very good job in your multiple characters, etc.

Nicholas Kuhn (Terpsichore) – Welcome back to ABT. Very believable portrayals in all your characters.

Renée Kathleen Koher (Calliope/Aphrodite) – Loved you Morticia in Addams Family. Great job in “Evil Woman” and as Aphrodite in “Have You Never Been Mellow” – very believable.

Danny Durr and Caleb Summers (Ensemble) – Welcome back to you both. You both contributed professionally in your characters and, being important roles, to this exciting show.

Courtney Laine Self (Director/Choreographer) – Welcome back to ABT. Congratulations on brining this wacky and hilarious show to its great conclusion. Just a super overall job.

Mark 4man (Music Director) – Another well done job, Mark, and to Joshua Condon on Keyboard 2, Daniel “Cheesy” Johnson on guitar, and Derek Engler on Drums.

Joseph C. Klug (Scenic Designer) – Welcome back to ABT. Another interesting, very workable set. Great job.

Mathew Solomon (Costume Design) – Welcome to ABT. Very believable costumes for this cast, excellent job. To you and all your helpers, congrats in making this fantasy show most interesting.

Kiel and Cassandra Klaphake (Executive Producer ad Casting & Artistic Director) – My highest congratulations to you both. You took a wild, kooky, whack-a-doodle show and produced something very special to me and this audience as you always do! Hope you had a wonderful, loving trip to Italy and, if you went to the Trevi fountain in Rome, that you both threw coins into the fountain to enhance your love for each other. I should have given you a coin for me; oh well, I did it a few years back with my love Vivian!

In a director’s viewpoint, Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of Xanadu – ABT produces shows that many other local theatres never do, and they did it again with a very exciting and most entertaining musical production. There’s a reason for this due to very good directors, talent, and supporting people they get to be part of their productions. I highly recommend this to the young and older to see this show.

In closing, I say, “goodnight, Vivian, my love.”

Jay

Reviewed: Opening night, September 6, 2019

When: Now through September 29, 2019

Where: Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 W. Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ, 85382

Tickets: $65 plus, including dinner; $45 plus show only (subject to demand pricing)

Detail: Ticket reservations – for information, call the box office at 623-776-400 or visit AZBroadway.org

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