Triangle Arts and Entertainment – News and Reviews Theatre Dance Music Arts

NRACT’s Production of “Xanadu” Embraces All Things Tacky

"Xanadu" stars (from left) Brian Westbrook, Lauren Knott, Rose Higgins, Heather Shinpaugh, Romni Rossi, Collin Yates, Rebecca Leonard, Alex Matsuo, and Kayla Austin (photo © Christine R. Choi)

“Xanadu” stars (from left) Brian Westbrook, Lauren Knott, Rose Higgins, Heather Shinpaugh, Romni Rossi, Collin Yates, Rebecca Leonard, Alex Matsuo, and Kayla Austin (photo © Christine R. Choi)

Leg warmers, the 80s, and pop culture references, oh my! A select group of people is familiar with the 1980 film, Xanadu. The film, which stars Olivia Newton-John, was universally panned in its day but eventually became a cult classic. Then, wonder of wonders, it managed to be transformed into a kitschy stage musical, with book by Douglas Carter Beane, in 2007. Now, Raleigh audiences can enjoy this camp-fest thanks to NRACT’s current production, directed and choreographed by James Ilsley. The show, under his direction, embodies the tacky-fabulous spirit that Xanadu is all about.

Those not familiar with the out-there plot will quickly understand that suspension of disbelief- and more than usual- is absolutely necessary for enjoying this ridiculous romp. In short, a gorgeous Greek muse, Clio (Lauren Knott) heads to Venice Beach, California in the year 1980 to inspire a should-be burgeoning artist named Sonny (Brian Westbrook). The rules of being a demi-god, however, dictate that she can’t fall in love with him, create art of her own, or reveal that she’s a muse. She disguises herself as Kira, a roller-skater with an Australian accent, and then proceeds to break all three of these rules in quick succession. There’s also a wacky subplot involving her eight sisters- two of whom attempt to put a curse on Kira and Sonny. So basically, the show is just crazy on roller skates, but it can be a whole lot of fun with the right cast and the right direction.

Fortunately, NRACT has both of those things. Knott is adorable in her role as Kira/Clio. Not only does she pull off the whole skating thing with ease, but she purposefully overplays the Australian accent for laughs and, with her sweet face and voice, creates a character who is completely lovable. Likewise, Westbrook is endearingly clueless and oh-so-80s in his role as Sonny. The supporting cast is strong too. With help from colorful, over-the-top costumes and a real flair for the comedic, Kira’s sisters- one of whom is actually played by a boy (shhh)- make the show even more fun and more ridiculous than it already is. Standouts from the supporting cast include Heather Shinpaugh’s quirky Calliope, Rose Higgins’ witchy portrayal of Melpomene, the show’s villainess, and Collin Yates’ larger-than-life Terpsicore.

Ilsley’s choreography is frenzied (in a good way) and adds in lots of head bobs, pointed gazes, and other played-for-laughs antics. The fun doesn’t stop there though. He pulls out all the stops by adding confetti, glow sticks, and a lot of thoroughly inappropriate but completely hilarious pop culture references and modern jokes. And, while one could argue that modern humor has no place in a play set in the 1980s, anyone who understands the irreverent nature of Xanadu (and everyone should after watching this show) will get that these additions are completely appropriate.

Xanadu is the perfect show for anyone who wants to be thoroughly entertained and maybe even a little enlightened. Because, for all its silliness and downright debauchery, it’s also a show about art, life, and all that the two have in common.

North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents XANADU at 8 p.m. Sept. 13, 3 p.m. Sept. 14, 8 p.m. Sept. 19 and 20, and 3 p.m. Sept. 21 at NRACT, 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Greystone Village Shopping Center.

TICKETS: $18.59 evenings and $15.48 matinees ($15.48 evenings and $13.41 matinees for students and seniors) (including fees).

BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228 or

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Xanadu (1980 film): (TCM Movie Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Xanadu (2007 Broadway musical comedy): (Music Theatre International), (Broadway show), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Jeff Lynne (music and lyrics): (official website) and (Wikipedia).

John Farrar (music and lyrics): (Wikipedia).

Douglas Carter Beane (book): (Wikipedia).

James Ilsley (co-director and choreographer): (Facebook page).

Jess Barbour (Raleigh co-director and choreographer): (Facebook page).


Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click To read more of her writings, click and

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