Xanadu has arrived at Cal State Fullerton’s Little Theater, proving once again that for big-stage professional-caliber musical theater, just about the only thing separating CSUF productions from those at Musical Theatre West or 3-D Theatricals is the uniformly young age of their talented casts. Case in point: Douglas Carter Beane’s 2005 Broadway treat.

Xanadu All Over 1 Playwright Beane provides a textbook example of how to turn a movie lemon into multiple Tony-nominated lemonade, his book for the stage adaptation of the Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly turkey transforming one of biggest critical and commercial failures of the 1980s from flaming flop to fabulous hit!

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 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 Livvy 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 muses spread Xanadu The Musical has a pair of jealous older sisters, Melpomene (Stephanie Inglese) and Calliope (Erica Beck) plotting against Zeus’s youngest child Clio (Devon Hadsell) 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 (Keaton Williams) with his love arrows. As in the movie, Sonny teams with mogul Danny McGuire (Spenser Micetich) 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.

Xanadu final pose CSUF faculty members Eve Himmelheber, William F. Lett, and Mitchell Hanlon helm Xanadu as (respectively) its director, choreographer, and musical director, and their students could not be in more talented hands.

Xanadu phone money Hadsell follows All Shook Up’s va-va-voomy Miss Sandra with a sparkling star turn as Clio (who in turn impersonates both Aussie Kira and southern belle Kitty), and proves herself as graceful on roller-skates as she is a topnotch vocalist and delightful comedienne.

Williams, who won not one but two Lead Actor Scenies last year for his stellar performances in CSUF’s Carousel and Chance Theater’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson gets to show off his comedic chops this time round as he channels movie slackers like Fast Times’ Jeff Spicoli and Excellent Adventure’s Bill and Ted to make for a charmingly goofy yet vocally suave Sonny.

Xanadu Evil Women Inglese and Beck couldn’t make for a more hilariously villainous duo as “Evil Women” Melpoene and Calliope. Both score laughs and belt to perfection, with Beck stealing the show on (temporary) crutches she manipulates so proficiently and imaginatively that you’d think she’s been rehearsing it that way all along. (Her Ursula Andress accent for Greek goddess Aphrodite is to die for as well.)

CSUF sophomore Micetich, last seen as the hilariously over-the-top Latin lothario Aldolpho in Cerritos College’s The Drowsy Chaperone, ages credibly and sings gorgeously as Danny/Zeus.

Xanadu muse 4 Nick Gardner, Emily Goedkin, Andrew Sattler and Skyler Zurn are nonstop delights as four fetchingly female muses Terpsicore, Euterpe, Thalia, and Erato, among other roles.

Xanadu Andrews' Sister In addition, the gals join Hadsell for some tight Andrews Sisters harmonies in “Dancin’,” Gardner scores bonus points as a Hermes straight out of Boys Town (well, maybe not so straight), and Sattler shows off snazzy tapping opposite an equally light-footed Hadsell as young Danny and his muse Kitty.

Xanadu Fred & Ginger Dominic Bettini, Chelle Denton, and Paul Scott not only sweeten the cast’s vocal harmonies as offstage pit singers, they make entertaining eleventh-hour Mount Olympus appearances as Centaur, Medusa, and Cyclops too.

Lett’s choreography sparkles and sizzles in the taptastic “Whenever You’re Away From Me” and in “Dancin’,” which pits ‘40s against ‘80s to show-stopping effect.

Hanlon conducts and plays keyboard 1 in Xanadu’s terrific four-piece onstage band, which features guest artists Peter Herz on keyboard 2, Jeff Askew or Byron Tomes on guitars, and Jason “Rosie” Rosenquist on drums.

CSUF faculty member Ann Sheffield has designed versatile, pro-quality, occasionally revolving set, with student designers Taylor Donham (costumes), Dayne Donnell (sound), and Harrison Haug (lighting) proving themselves every bit as talented. Donham’s costumes are a particular treat, transporting us back in time to 1980, the ‘40s, and Ancient Greece. Guest artist Laura Young deserves kudos as well for her hair and makeup design.

Xanadu partners Dozens upon dozens of faculty and student production staff members get deserved program credit. I’ll mention two of them here, (faculty) production manager/stage management supervisor Debra Garcia Lockwood and (student) stage manager Chelsea Mundy.

To my knowledge, no other L.A./Orange County university offers its musical theater majors more chances to shine than Cal State Fullerton with two big-stage and two intimate musicals each year, productions which spotlight the juniors and seniors in CSUF’s elite Musical Theater BFA program.

Most of those not in Xanadu will be appearing next month in the school’s Grand Central Art Center black-box production of the Twelfth Night-inspired Illyria. In the meantime, Xanadu starts off the 2013-2014 school year with 1980s pizzazz.

Little Theatre, California State University, Fullerton Department of Theatre & Dance, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton.

–Steven Stanley
October 20, 2013
Photos: Edwin Lockwood


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