If you look up the word “xanadu” in the dictionary, you’ll find it means a “beautiful idylic place.” In the case of Broadway Series South’s production of Xanadu, which opened on Thursday, January 28 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, it refers to the psychadelic roller disco opened by Sonny (Max Von Essen) with a little help from his muse Clio/Kira (Elizabeth Stanely). And while the story is a little nonsensical, this show’s self-effacing nature, high-energy cast, and acid trip inspired costumes prove that the only thing better than a good play is a play that’s bad on purpose.
Past reviews of the show have praised Stanley’s performance, and while her hokey-on-purpose Australian accent and stellar roller-skating skills make her character more than endearing, her performance comes in a close second to Natasha Yvette Williams’ portrayal of Melpomene, Clio’s manipulative and jealous sister. Williams’ booming yet sultry rendition of “Evil Woman” was the highlight of the show.
Despite the fact that most of the members of the cast played multiple roles, each character shone with such life and light that this was unnoticeble – or at least it would have been if one of the characters hadn’t explained another’s absence by faulting double-casting. Moments like this were placed throughout the performance, providing just the right “we’re not taking this seriously so why should you” tone that is the show’s saving grace. If there would have been any hint of pretentiousness, this play would have fallen flat on its face and been labeled ludicrous, but somehow, it manages to be both wonderfully tacky and surprisingly deep. If one listens closely between the laughs and pop culture references, there are traces of human truths about art, love, and, believe it or not, the meaning of life.
The only fault that can be found here is that the set is a bit disappointing. The same backdrop, with only a few minor changes, serves as Venice beach, the roller disco, and Mt. Olympus. The fabulous, sparkling costumes and the super-tall letters that spell out the show’s name almost make up for the drab set, but not quite. With a play this spectacular and purposefully tawdry, one can’t help but wonder why the performance didn’t go the extra mile and give the audience the raunchily extravagant set it was expecting.
This, however, is only a minor glitch and maybe even a clever way of playing with audience expecations, and it is certainly better than any adapation of a bad 80s flick has any right to be. Fans of the original film, by the way, will not be disappointed. There is just the right amount of inside joking (Australian accent, anyone?) to keep loyal fans happy without leaving first-time viewers confused. The humor, too, somehow manages to be both clean enough to bring the kids and yet dirty enough to keep even the most devious mind entertained. Xanadu is a play of contradictions. It is so terrible and so completely wonderful that it just has to be seen.
The show will run until Sunday, January 31 with 8:00 p.m. showings from January 28 through January 30, a 7:00 p.m. performance on January 31, and 2:00 p.m. matinees on January 30 and January 31. For tickets, visit progressenergycenter.com or ticketmaster.com