A Review of Xanadu

Santafe.com - August 15, 2011

"Every time something looks thrown together or cheap or slapdash you smile a little bit more..."

I had a long day. A very long, very bad day. One of those days where you just want to go home and have it be over. So when I checked my calendar and saw that I had to go to a showing of Devon Frieder’s production of Xanadu, I don’t mind telling you I wasn’t very enthused. I don’t mind telling you this because after the show I had such a smile on my face I couldn’t remember why I had been so blue to begin with.
 
For those unfamiliar with the 1980s cult hit, Xanadu tells the tale of a Greek Muse come down to earth to help aid the struggles of a California street artist, only to fall in love with him herself. Since loving a mortal is forbidden by the gods, the two must prove their love to the timeless forces of Olympus or be torn apart forever.
 
As was the fashion for '80s films, the movie served as a vehicle for the music of its star, Olivia Newton-John. Mamma Mia it was
not. The film barely broke even and received universally bad reviews. The soundtrack however sold quite well, and like so many off-color films of the 1980s, garnered a cult following for many years after. It was not until two decades later in 2007, when one such cult fan would transform the film and turn it into a Broadway hit. The plot was heavily altered to be character driven, the greek dynamics of the plot were emphasized, and the campiness was now intentional and aimed squarely at its own foibles. The reinvented show received several awards and was considered a smash. Let this be a lesson: Campy musical theatre equals a hit, campy musical movies equal cult phenomena.
 
Ms. Frieder’s production is a strict adaptation of the Broadway musical. Designed to be a uplifting show, Devon Frieder and her cast put on a production that fully embraces the levity of the source material. As Ms. Frieder put it, “everyone who comes into the theatre is in on the joke. We all know it’s bad, that’s what makes it so good.”
 
Music is an important tool in musical theatre. Where in the Playhouse’s recent production of COLE they used music as the central character to tell the tale, Ms. Frieder said “the music is there to contribute to the story and move the plot along. If a song doesn't fit into the story to help tell it in
some way, then its irrelevant.”
 
Though this show is by all accounts a “jukebox musical" the company does a fine job integrating the songs into the story and to help round out the non-central characters.
 
The show sports a pair of classic melodrama villains. The kind you love to hate but love to love even more. From air guitaring a rock song to skirting their way through the seats of the house, they constantly find ways to endear themselves to the audience. Sure they’re evil, but they’re more deuteragonist than antagonist. They don’t like the hero but they also make you laugh so hard you’re secretly rooting for them too. An especially hilarious rendition of ELO's “Evil Woman” is sure to make you question who you want to win at the end.
 
If this show ever had a fourth wall it was lost and buried long ago. Between the constant asides to the audience, various characters cutting through the seats, or the laissez-faire surreality of the plot, this is not a show that pretends to have a pretense of theatrical realism. Which, for a show like Xanadu, is a very good thing. This lack of audience-to-story separation is further enforced by the placement of 20 seats upstage center, literally bringing the audience into the work, as these seats allow audience members become part of the experience. The seats are there for those who want them. So if interested, first come first serve.
 
This production of Xanadu is a great theatre piece. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s a night well spent. Is it a commentary on society? No. Is it going to change the way you look at theatre? No. Does it have to be? Absolutely not. This is fun night at the theatre that will leave you feeling good. This production is a passion project of Devon Frieder, who directs, stars, and choreographed. Acting opposite is her real life boyfriend who musically directed.
 
A lot of care has gone into what hopefully will be seen as a fine time at the theatre. Xanadu has something unique going for it. Every time
something looks thrown together or cheap or slapdash you smile a little bit more, because it adds to the camp. This show is about things being silly and ridiculous and not taking yourself seriously. It’s not high theatre but it is the best greek choir you’ll ever see in neon togas.
 
The show runs in Santa Fe at Warehouse 21 on Friday August 12 at 7 p.m., the 13 at 2 and 7 p.m., and the 14 at 2 p.m.. The show’s second weekend is in Albuquerque at The Box Performance Space located at 2nd and Gold. Its showtimes are Friday the 19th at 6 p.m., the
20th at 2 and 6 p.m. and the 21st at 2 p.m.. Tickets are $10. $1 off for students and an additional
$1 if you come in your best '80s attire.