Playwright Douglas Carter Beane provided a textbook example of how to turn a movie lemon into Broadway lemonade when he wrote the book for the stage adaptation of the turkey known as Xanadu, and lo and behold, one of biggest critical and commercial failures of the 1980s was transformed from flaming flop to fabulous hit!

 Angelinos who didn’t travel to New York in 2007 or catch Xanadu’s National Tour in its all-too-brief two-week run in Costa Mesa in 2009 can finally see what all the laughter and applause was about as DOMA Theatre Company presents a terrific local premiere of the big-stage Broadway hit at Hollywood’s far more intimate Met Theatre.

Those who recall Xanadu the movie (actually quite a lot of you, as the film went on to become a cult hit on VHS and DVD) know that it starred Olivia Newton-John as Clio, an ancient Greek muse who traveled through time to 1980 in order to inspire frustrated artist Sonny Malone to greatness. Xanadu also featured a quintet of songs (“Magic,” “Xanadu,” “All Over The World,” “I’m Alive,” and “Suddenly”) which went on to become Top 20 Hits for Newton-John and/or ELO.

Beane blended the movie’s wisp of a storyline with plot threads from 1981’s Clash Of The Titans to create a campy, deliciously self-aware script filled with laughs galore. He found Juke Box Musical ways to interpolate the movie’s songs into the dialog, and added ELO’s “Strange Magic” and “Evil Woman” and Newton-John’s “Have You Never Been Mellow” to the film’s eleven songs, giving Xanadu one of the most recognizable and “sing-along-able” Broadway scores of recent years.

 Xanadu The Musical has a pair of jealous older sisters, Melpomene (Veronica Scheyving) and Calliope (Brittany Rodin) plotting against Zeus’s youngest child Clio (Lovlee Carroll) by tricking her into breaking one of the Greek gods’ cardinal rules (“A muse is forbidden to fall in love with a mortal”), and failing that, by having Eros (that’s Cupid in Roman mythology) shoot Kira (the name Clio picks for her ’80s incarnation) and Sonny (Matt O’Neill) with his love arrows. As in the movie, Sonny teams with mogul Danny McGuire (David Michael Treviño) to bring an abandoned auditorium back to life, but here, Sonny’s dream is for “Xanadu” to become not only a center for the arts but also … a Roller Disco!

Those who’ve seen the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar or the Tony-nominated The Little Dog Laughed will have some idea of Beane’s particular take on life and laughter. The campier your sense of humor and the more aware of 1980s pop culture you are, the more you will enjoy the absolutely hilarious book he has written for Xanadu.

 Truth be told, Xanadu The Musical did come across pretty low-budget for a Broadway show with its relatively small cast, its single, rather simple set, and its four-piece orchestra, and without an intermission, the show ran only about as long as the first act of Wicked.

That single set and four-piece orchestra seem just about right for the 99-seat Met, and with the addition of one more dancer and a not unwelcome intermission, Xanadu In Hollywood makes for one of DOMA’s most entertaining offerings so far, with director Hallie Baran doing crackerjack work at the helm.

Truth be told, following five days off after this past weekend’s opening, last night’s performance was a tad rough around the edges, with several performers fluffing lines here or there, but that didn’t prevent this reviewer from having a marvelous time from start to finish.

 Indiana native Carroll makes a dazzling Los Angeles debut as Clio/Kira, and if the petite beauty of South Asian descent doesn’t immediately match Newton-John’s blue-eyed Aussie image, plop a blonde wig on the triple-threat Hoosier and you’ve got as sensational a Muse-in-disguise as any Xanadu fan could wish for, Carroll’s power pipes, comedic chops, and roller-skating grace making for a Kira any Sonny would fall head-over-sneakers for.

O’Neill makes for a charmingly goofy Sonny in the tradition of movie slackers like Fast Times’ Jeff Spicoli and Excellent Adventure’s Bill and Ted. Scheyving follows her performance as Pippin’s Berthe up in Simi Valley with another big, brassy turn as the evil Melpomene. Rodin is a particular standout as her partner in crime, whether literally “chewing the scenery” or turning into Tagalog-accented Goddess in an eleventh hour dual role.

Treviño is a terrific singer-dancer in the role originated on film by the legendary Gene Kelly, but was shaky in dialog sequences involving the supposed high-powered Danny. To his credit, Treviño was considerably stronger in his scenes as a hoity-toity Zeus.

Taji Coleman, Alan Lee, Bradley Sattler, and Lindsay Zana are quite fabulous as Kira’s fellow sisters (two of whom are actual fellows), with Lee and Sattler exhibiting oodles of athleticism and flamboyant pizzazz as sisters-in-drag. A pair of very good dancers, Allyson Blackstone and Morgan Gallant, complete the cast.

DOMA resident choreographer Angela Todaro does her best work to date in musical numbers that cover a variety of genres, including a snazzy tap number performed snappily by Carroll and Treviño, and a show-stopping “Dancin’,” that pits ‘40s against ‘80s. Kudos go too to skate coach Appelusa, and if there appears to be less skate choreography than in the National Tour, its absence is only barely missed.

Recent Scenie-winning Musical Director Of The Year Chris Raymond is in top form once again, conducting and performing keyboards in Xanadu’s above-stage (and otherwise all-female) band, joined by Emily Cohn on keyboards, Molly Miller on guitar, Anna Stadlman on drums, and Anjilla René Piazza on drums.

 Scenic designer/scenic artist Amanda Lawson’s set doesn’t do the magical things the Broadway and touring original did, but it more than fulfills Xanadu’s needs, our imagination filling in the blanks. Johnny Ryman’s lighting is first-rate and David Crawford’s excellent sound design makes it clear that the Met Theatre sound system has indeed been upgraded—to DOMA Theatre Company’s credit and advantage.

Still, Xanadu’s undisputed design star is Michael Mullen, whose costumes are each more dazzling than the ones before, from Sonny’s slacker garb to the Muse Sisters’ harem-ready jewel-studded chiffons to Kira’s frilly pink frock to ’40s-vs-‘80s fashions for the mashup that is “Dancin’.”

Additional credit goes to Marco Gomez (executive producer), Dolf Ramos (producer), Michael Abramson (producer), Juan Carlos Chavez (controller), Danielle DeMasters (production manager), Timothy Miller (assistant production manager), Jason Henderson (technical director), Jennifer Bendik (stage manager), Ilia Kemble (assistant stage manager/prop master, Dean Wright (assistant lighting designer), Michael Ritchey (sound engineer), Devin Holliman (audio 2), Cesar Martinez (house manager/production assistant), Julio Rodriguez (assistant to technical director), and Andy Scott Harris (production assistant).

Following Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, tick, tick … BOOM!, The Playground, The Who’s Tommy, and the recent Jekyll & Hyde, Xanadu continues to cement DOMA Theatre Company’s status as a welcome addition to L.A.’s intimate musical theater scene. Though dialog sequences still need polishing, Xanadu may well be DOMA’s very best yet.

Note: Scenie-winning Jean Altadel will be playing Kira, with Robert Slack as her Sonny, on September 21, 22, and 23.

DOMA Theatre Co. @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
September 14, 2012
Photos: Michael Lamont

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