By Robert Haugh
What is not to love about a sappy, hilarious love story intertwined with the Greek God Zeus, his eccentric muse daughters, roller disco and a plethora of 80s pop culture references?
San Jose Playhouse scores a last-second game-winning Touchdown with their production of Xanadu.
Struggling artist Sonny Malone, played by Jason Kimmel lacks inspiration. He’s upset. He’s sad.
Malone is set to waive the white flag, surrendering his artistic dreams. He’s so depressed he begins writing a suicide note. He starts that by plagiarizing.
Inspiration conjures from an unusual source — a charming, charismatic muse, Kira/Clio, played by Mitty High alum Annie Hunt. The California native is brilliant in her role as a sassy Australian roller skater with a Southern Belle’s charm.
The performance takes a little time to get moving, but develops smoothly with obnoxiously obvious twists played out by the diverse cast. Somehow, the journey starting in Venice Beach winds up atop Mt. Olympus — where viewers eventually see Pegasus soaring above like a hawk.
Identifying the venomous heel and babyface hero is easy. It’s such a simple, penultimate good vs. evil story, bringing back memories of Jake the Snake Roberts tormenting Macho Man Randy Savage and bride-to-be Miss Elizabeth.
One of the highlights is when real estate mogul Danny Maguire, played by Jim Ambler, seems to awaken from his corporate desk. He churns out amazing notes and dance moves. There’s a clever story within the story about Maguire and Malone’s (note to producers — they could’ve been M&M Partners) business partnership of launching the Xanadu marquee.
There’s no absence of well-timed adult-oriented and witty one-liners. An overload of wryly banter with a gaggle of humorous 80s references spices up the dialogue.
One of the major boosts to the 90-minute production under the stars is the music from the 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John.
The catchy tunes, written and performed originally by Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra mesh perfectly into the whimsical story, giving viewers a taste of upbeat rock, slow ballads and some traditional jitterbugs.
One of this scribes’ favorite scenes is Melopomene (B Noel Thomas) and Calliope’s (Brian Conway) performance of Evil Woman. Multi-talented Thomas played an equally great role in San Jose Stage Company’s Toxic Avenger in 2017.
There’s ample musical variety, with powerful solos, duets and full cast numbers. Other songs include I’m Alive, Magic, Don’t Walk Away, Strange Music, as well as the title song, Xanadu.
The supporting cast does an exemplary job, with Terpscocre (Isai Centeno), Calliope, Erato (Osher Fein) and Euterpe (Brienne Alisa Martin) all having Easter-egg like lines referencing the 80s.
According to the event website, “Xanadu is the hit musical that took audiences and critics by surprise when it transformed an obscure film into the hottest comedy on Broadway.”
The show also is described as having “a script that redefines musical theatre satire … a hilarious, roller disco musical adventure … all at once a romantic comedy, a celebration of retro music, and an endless cavalcade of ‘80s kitsch and the most ridiculously wonderful time you’ll ever have …” Spot-on. This writer couldn’t have said it much better.
There’s some really rad props, like a coin-operated pay phone (yeah, I know, I’m old enough to know what those are!).
The show is in its final week, with shows nightly at 8 p.m., through Sept. 11. The performance is held “Up on the Rooftop,” on the fifth floor of the parking garage. For tickets and more details, visit https://sanjoseplayhouse.org/.
The Thursday, Sept. 8 performance includes a post-show Q&A with the cast and crew.
If you’re looking for a fun, laughter-filled evening out, Xanadu is a winning choice.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 body slams