Nothing gets old people clapping in unison quite like a contemporary rock musical. Drury Lane’s revival of “Xanadu” certainly doesn’t lack any of the plucky charm of this 2007 Broadway and short-lived Chicago hit. “Xanadu,” otherwise known as, “the surprise Broadway hit,” is a musical remake of the notoriously awful 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John and the late Gene Kelly. The surprising part of this musical is that it’s way better than its original source material, unlike most of the recent stage versions of eighties movies, such as “Ghost: The Musical.”
Blending the songs of Electric Light Orchestra (composers for the original film) with new material, “Xanadu” is a briskly paced story of the nine muse daughters of Zeus, in particular Clio, sent to inspire Venice Beach dope, Sonny, to open his own roller disco. Clio, or Kira, is played hilariously by Gina Milo who makes so many subtle choices amidst the enormous spectacle that one could easily spend the whole show mesmerized by her graceful rollerskate-bevel. Chris Critelli as Sonny is a dead ringer for the part originated by Cheyenne Jackson and, together, Critelli and Milo make endearing co-stars, especially during the number “Suddenly.”
Casting unfortunately is a little inconsistent here. The younger cast members appear to be having a blast in their utter commitment to this silly material. The older cast members, however, mostly just seem uncomfortable, with the exception of Christine Sherrill and Nancy Voigts as sister muses Melpomene and Calliope. The two walk away with many of the plentiful laughs, stopping the show as the audience roars at their evil antics. Drury Lane has also added an intermission to this one-act musical, and the audience loses some of that jubilant energy during the forced act break.
“Xanadu” is a self-referential good time, and to enjoy it for any other purpose than the ecstasy of brightly colored choreography and vocally stimulating songs is pointless. The humor, though now showing signs of age, is fairly modern and actually pretty funny. It would be hard for anyone not to be entertained by the combination of sheer moxie and theatricality inspired by “Xanadu.” Director Rachel Rockwell has played it pretty close to the original production, and apparently with the same budget, because the sets and costumes leave little to be desired.
“Xanadu” is as timeless as the roller disco at its center, and Drury Lane is wise to produce this show now before it becomes tired and worn out on cruise ships. Many of its wacky predecessors, such as “Mamma Mia,” have become unsustainable in that they rely so heavily on topical humor and casts with a lot of fresh energy. Rockwell’s production offers a definitive regional presentation, but does slightly lack the same sincerity as the 2009 Broadway In Chicago engagement. That aside, “Xanadu” isn’t a show that takes itself too seriously and therefore it’s not asking its audience to either. This musical is first and foremost a satire of one of the worst movies ever made, and it almost makes one shudder to think what campy movies from our time will be musically mocked in the future. This is a show for those who just love to watch people sing and dance, and for that reason it delivers entirely. (John J. Accrocco)
Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630)530-0111. Through October 28.