Robert Hurwitt
San Francisco Chronicle
May 25, 2012

Xanadu: Musical. Book by Douglas Carter Beane. Songs by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. Directed by Jeff Collister. Through June 23. Center Rep, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. 95 minutes. (925) 943-7469. www.centerrep.org

Silliness is its own reward when Greek mythology slams into roller disco and a string of Olivia Newton-John hits in “Xanadu,” the musical that opened Tuesday at Center Repertory Company. No matter if you don’t care for some comic tangents. Others arrive so quickly there’s no time to become disenchanted with one.

Credit has to go not only to Douglas Carter Beane’s witty adaptation of the 1980 film flop - now a minor cult classic - but to director Jeff Collister and his Center Rep cast and crew. Lampoons are layered upon each other so thickly - of the film, of movies, movie stars, theater and Borscht Belt shtick, pop stars, Valley girls and boys - that camp spoofs get buried under spoofs of camp itself.

That comedic generosity helps explain how an otherwise rather thin musical became a surprise Broadway hit in 2007, a popularity since replicated in many regional productions. This is the third Bay Area production within the past year, after stagings at San Jose’s Retro Dome and San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre.

It doesn’t hurt the Walnut Creek version to have quadruple-threat Brittany Danielle anchoring the show as the Muse Clio, who shows up at Venice Beach, disguised as an Australian roller skater named Kira. Danielle (formerly Brittany Ogle) sings, dances and acts the part beautifully, hitting every physical and vocal comic mark with precision. She’s also a former junior champion figure skater, gliding through the action with engaging grace.

Clio/Kira is on a mission to inspire surfer-boy chalk-mural artist Sonny (Tim Homsley) to realize his dreams to create a roller-disco palace of the arts. Six of her Muse sisters provide funny and full-voiced support, ranging from buoyant sex-kitten Erato (Sharon Rietkerk), bumptious Thalia (Mark Farrell), klutz-diva Terpsicore (Evan Boomer) and feisty Euterpe (Catherine Gloria) - all of whom play many parts - to tuneful backups Taylor Jones and Ben Bogen.

Jealous eldest Muses Melpomene (Dyan McBride) and Calliope (Maureen McVerry) sabotage Clio by making her fall in love with Sonny - which will cost Clio her immortality - announcing their plans in a hilarious “Evil Woman,” with McBride pulling out the musical stops and McVerry channeling Lucille Ball’s comedic chops. Smooth local musicals veteran Tom Reardon plays the greedy developer with a big-band past, setting up a crazy swing-grunge version of "Dancin'."

The hits keep happening, a mixed blessing depending on your tolerance for songwriters Jeff Lynne and John Farrar’s Electric Light Orchestra and Newton-John output. They’re handled with crisp musicality and disarmingly comic flourishes by musical director Brandon Adams, choreographer Jennifer Perry and the cast.

Victoria Livingston-Hall adds to the hilarity with ever more ridiculous Greek-myth costumes on Kelly Tighe’s clever sets. And in the end, love - and perhaps even art - conquer all.

Robert Hurwitt is The San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic. E-mail: rhurwitt@sfchronicle.com


Pat Craig
San Jose Mercury News
May 23, 2012

A blend of "Bulfinch's Mythology" and roller disco?


Yet as proven by Walnut Creek's Center Repertory Company, in the right hands (or feet), the ridiculous can be sublime. That's the case with "Xanadu," the stage musical version of the 1980 film that, sadly, was one of Gene Kelly's final big-screen appearances (the film also confirmed my wife's theory that we would all be better off if Olivia Newton-John went back to Australia and stayed there).

All that, though, is film over the sprockets. And the stage adaptation that we get at the Lesher Center is a beyond-camp, sharp, bright comedy that fires a constant barrage of silly tracer bullets at a willing audience. In a scant 90 minutes, the musical manages to run roughshod over almost every movie and theatrical cliche you can think of, while employing the thinnest of plots to string a collection of pop disco hits into a light but hilarious musical.

Here's the story: Sonny (Tim Homsley) is a surfer/skater dude with the soul of an artist. But he lacks the inspiration to complete a mural on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, which thwarts his dreams of converting an old waterside theater into an art gallery, theater, dance center and, most of all, roller disco.

The mural, as it turns out, contains the likenesses of goddesses fresh from Mount Olympus, including Clio (Brittany Danielle), who arrives at the boardwalk as Kira, a roller-skating blonde goddess with an Aussie/Newton-John accent just to drive the point home.

Rounding out the wonderful red hot mess of a story is a gaggle of goddesses -- male and female, all in goddess drag -- to either help or hinder Clio (depending on your point of view). The goddesses include Mark Farrell, Catherine Gloria, Sharon Rietkerk, Dyan McBride, Maureen McVerry and Evan Boomer. They are the funniest group ever to slip on tights and gossamer, and add delightfully to the madness that races around the stage on foot and on skates.

Homsley and Danielle make a great romantic pair, but also play the show for laughs -- he's an artist with lowbrow instincts and pulls the combination off beautifully. She is a goddess from Olympus and a young woman in love, an intense combination that Danielle plays to the hilt, along with spending most of the show's running time on wheels.

Reardon proves himself every bit the song-and-dance man, with a couple of impressive solos, soft-shoe and tap and a huge amount of comic timing and delivery.

Director Jeff Collister moves the show like a fast night at the roller disco, and helps his cast squeeze every bit of comedy out of the piece.

Kelly Tighe has designed a towering, turning set with a great amount of performing space on various levels and a blend of styles that makes it visually interesting. And Victoria Livingston-Hall's incredible costumes mix disco and goddess gossamer for maximum effect.

Jennifer Perry has created wildly energetic and effective dance numbers that make you almost (but not quite) yearn for the days of disco.


Sally Hogarty
May 30, 2012

Local theater companies brought the 1980s back in full force this past week with the opening of two shows both based on different 1980s films.

First, Center REP offers up an adult fairy tale with the outrageously fluffy musical "Xanadu," now playing through June 23 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts. Based on the 1980 cult classic film starring Olivia Newton-John, "Xanadu" follows Sonny, a young artist, as he paints his masterpiece (in chalk) on the boardwalk of Venice Beach when nine goddesses magically appear from his painting.

He falls in love with the chief goddess, Clio, who inspires him to greatness. Of course, Zeus frowns upon the fraternization of goddesses with mortals and so many obstacles obstruct the couple's future and the fulfillment of Sonny's artistic destiny -- to open a roller disco palace that glorifies all the arts.

Jeff Collister directs with the perfect blend of campy humor and inventive choreography by Jennifer Perry, who expands her repertoire to include skating moves. Thankfully, designer Kelly Tighe incorporated handrails into his set, allowing some very funny "pole" antics as well as attractive safety lines for those on skates.

Brittany Danielle, who was great in "Becoming Brittany," is the perfect choice for Clio. Not only is she a fine actress, singer and dancer, but she also spent her childhood as a competitive USFSA figure skater, giving her a leg-up on the competition for the discogoddess. Tim Homsley plays Sonny with just the right degree of nothing-much-upstairs, a far cry from his portrayal of Melchior in "Spring Awakening," especially considering the tight red short shorts with sequined top he wears in the finale. I just wish his character had more musical numbers to show off his wonderful voice.

Collister's bevy of talent-laden goddesses includes Evan Boomer, Mark Farrell (a riot as Thalia), Catherine Gloria, Dyan McBride, Maureen McVerry and Sharon Rietkerk. Tom Reardon as both Danny and Zeus turns in another outstanding performance.

Costumer Victoria Livingston-Hall certainly had her work cut out for her as she pieced together a plethora of 1980' fad clothing and goddess attire with a time-lapse sequence back to the more sophisticated styles of 1940. Brandon Adams as musical director leads a heavenly band that includes Kim Vetterli, Jon Imholz and Erika Johnson.


Lee Hartgrave
June 1, 2012

Get out those skates – cause you are about to go on a magical journey. A young man who has dreams of bringing back to life an old Theatre that has been closed for years has dreams that may not come true. There are some bumps along the way as a Greek muse Kira descends from the heavens to Venice Beach, California. Kira and Sonny skate around each other and well, they kinda, fall in love and make the Theatre Dream come true.

She meets up with Sonny, a struggling artist. He not only wants to make canvas come alive, he also wants to turn an abandoned Theatre into the first ROLLER DISCO! Remember, we are now in 1980’s time. There are problems with the well-oiled skates. Kira falls into forbidden love with the handsome and charming Sonny. However, Kira’s sisters are jealous witches that whip all the magic they can to destroy the romance between Kira and Sonny.

This is pure Theatre. Each Actor fills the magic with astounding sparkly visions. This comedy cocktail will definitely give you a buzz. There is a treasure trove of beautiful tunes, a madcap plot and visual inventive delights. Then there are the frothy, fabulous costumes and the beautiful sets. Believe me you will be astounded with the romantic moments. It’s a choreography marvel!

The music is heavenly. You’ll recognize fragments of “Mama Mia”. And songs like “I’m Alive”, “Magic and Dancin” – and that’s just a beginning. The basket of tunes takes us up to Mount Olympus. Oh yes – it’s really heavenly up there in the clouds where the non-mortal Zeus sits on his Throne. And we are not talking about “Apple’s Clouds”. They didn’t do computers in those days.

All in all “Xanadu” is a rip-roaring, ridiculous entertainment. It’s pure exhilaration!

YOU CAN’T RESIST THE ACTORS. THEY ARE THE BEST! And here they are: Tim Homsley (Sonny) is electrifyingly alive. He could charm the butterflies off the trees. He should put that charisma in a bottle and sell it! He’s every Broadway character actor you ever wanted to see.

Brittany Danielle (Clio/Kira) plays the Muse love interest of Sonny. She’s bold, refreshing, lucid, and insightful. She’s terrific! Instantly won us over!

All the Actors give us summer smiles. I can’t tell you how wonderfully expert everyone was. But I was overwhelmed with the whip-smart cast. You are ALL brilliant! Mark Farrell, Catherine Gloria, Sharon Rietkerk, Dyan McBride, Maureen McVerry, Evan Boomer, Tom Reardon, Ben Bogen and Taylor Jones.

Xanadu is a “Triumph” – “This is one of Center Repertory’s funniest pleasures.

Hooray’s for: Michael Butler, Artistic Director, Scott Denison, Managing Director, Kelly Tighe – Scenic Designer is Marvelous. Sound Design by Jeff Mockus is really crisp. Not a note was missed. Costume Designer – Victoria Livingston-Hall and Lighting Designer – by Kurt Lanisman really know their stuff. And there’s more. Jeff Collister Director - kept those roller skates moving. And Brandon Adams did a bang up job with the musical direction. The fabulous Choreography by Jennifer Perry is excellent.


Xanadu at Center REP is Spectaculary Outrageous

Kedar K. Adour
May 23, 2012

Why would anyone want to invest money in converting, Xanadu, a 1980 stinkeroo movie, into a stage vehicle? I guess because they had a vision that the world was ready for a hilarious spoof of the mythical Greek god Zeus and his seven daughters cavorting in gaudy colorful costumes singing and dancing their hearts out with some of them on roller skates. They were right. Xanadu became the smash hit of the 2007-2008 Broadway season running for over 500 performances winning multiple awards. Now is your chance to be equally entertained at the all-fun, fantastic staging on CenterRep’s Lesher stage. It is a hoot and a holler, extravagant, kaleidoscopic, implausibly outrageous (pick your own adjective), and must-be-seen to be believed West Coast production.

The time is 1980 Venice, California, and sidewalk chalk artist Sonny Malone (Tim Homsley) has hit “artist block” (the equivalent of writer’s block) and cannot go on chalking the mythical goddesses. But wait, the painting comes to life and the Seven Muses are alive and active with the youngest Clio (Brittany Danielle) determined to be Sonny’s artistic Muse. This is verboten by the rules from Zeus on Mount Olympus, but what the heck youth will out and not too bright Sonny needs help. So, Clio, disguises herself as Kira, complete with an Olivia Newton-John Australian accent, roller skates and leg warmers to help hapless Sonny to follow his dream. Would you believe he wants to combine art with athletics and what better way than to create a “roller disco."

Alas, Clio/Kira has two jealous evil sisters, Melpomene (Dyan McBride) and Calliope (Maureen McVerry)) who will have none of this and they belt out the “Evil Woman” ballad that brings the house down. They are going to make Clio/Kira fall in love with Sonny. Enter Danny Maguire (Tom Reardon), a former clarinetist turned development entrepreneur who just happens to have an abandoned space, formerly named Xanadu, perfect for a roller-disco. If Sonny and Clio/Kira can whip the place into shape in one day, generous Danny will give them 25% of the take. Clio/Kira doesn’t think this is very bright but goes along with Sonny’s dreams.

Somewhere in the course of the evening the question arises about what in the name of the gods is Xanadu? One of the muses wails, “It is a gift so grand none of us know what it is!” Conflict arises, since true love never runs true. Did I tell you it is a crime for the Olympian Muses to take mortal form and become artists and a bigger crime if they fall in love with a mortal? Well, you guessed it Clio/Kira and Sonny do the dastardly deed (if falling in love is a dastardly deed) to the music and lyrics of “Suddenly.” You know they are made for each other when Sonny steps out of the telephone booth wearing roller skates. Now, just how did they do that?

What is even more fun, audience favorite Mark Farrell in drag as Thalia (and other roles) appropriately hams it up and steals many of the laughs. Before continuing with this review it is necessary to inform you that all, yes ALL the cast double and triple in other rolls and Dyan McBride gets a big laugh with the throw away line “Calliope would be here with me if we didn’t have to play double roles!” They do it so well and you may never know who is who (whom?) with the non stop action.

Although Brittany Danielle is absolutely charming, brilliant and a damn good skater the supporting cast gets more than their share of accolades as they bounce around the fantastic, outrageous (those adjectives must be used again and again) set (Kelly Tighe) that is a three level marvel with central revolving stage and fireman poles on stage right and left. Those poles get used frequently and poor Maureen McVerry milks her time on the pole for a great laugh every time she uses it. Sharon Rietkerk’s performance as Erato may earn an R rating from the censors if there are any.

The costumes are a drag queen’s dream (Victoria Livingston-Hall). Director Jeff Collister and choreographer Jennifer Perry could be sued for actor abuse (is there such a classification) putting these poor denizens of Mount Olympus through their paces. Everyone is in excellent voice. Brandon Adams and the on-stage band are terrific with the pop-rock score. The plethora of sight gags and double entendre remarks get their just due of laughs.

It truly is an ensemble performance with all parts fitting together like a crazy jigsaw puzzle. The running time of 95 minutes flies by and will leave you asking for more. Nevertheless, you will have to settle for a grand finale (you have never seen a Zeus like this Zeus) with the part of the cast on roller skates while disco balls bathe the stage with flashing lights (Kurt Landisman). This Xanadu is a gift of ancient gods.


Xanadu the right thing

Chad Jones
May 23, 2012

Summer camp has started early this year, but not to worry. This is some high quality high camp.

We've had a few Bay Area productions of Xanadu, the Broadway musical version of the notorious 1980 movie starring Olivia Newton-John as a roller-skating light bulb, er, sorry, roller-skating Muse (you know, from Mt. Olympus kind of muse). The Retro Dome in San Jose and New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco both did the show last year, but having missed the show during its 2007/08, I was waiting for the Center Repertory Company production that just opened.

I’m so glad I waited.

Before I tell you how fabulous this production is – and fabulous really is the operative word on so many levels – I have to confess to being a Xanadu fan. There’s a joke in the show about this being “children’s theater for 40-year-old gays,” and it’s like book writer Douglas Carter Beane was talking directly to me. I was 13 when, at the grocery store, I bought the soundtrack album to Xanadu (yes, on vinyl) before seeing the film. I was completely enthralled with Side 1 as the Olivia Newton-John side and Side 2 as the Electric Light Orchestra. There were guest appearances by the rock band The Tubes (“Dancin’”), Cliff Richard (“Suddenly”) and Gene Kelly (“Whenever You’re Away from Me”), and then ON-J herself appeared on the ELO side to sing the synth-happy title song. It was bliss.

Then I saw the movie, and even at 13 I knew it was crap. Sure I liked it, but it wasn’t nearly as good as what I had imagined looking at the production photos on the album cover while I memorized the songs.

I must say I was doubtful about the joke-laden Broadway translation of the movie as a glorified jukebox musical, especially because I never warmed to the Broadway cast recording. But now, having seen an exuberant and very funny production of the show, I’ve come closer to seeing that original version in my 13-year-old head.

Director Jeff Collister and a cast of stalwart comedians make great use of the three essential “S’s”: silliness, sassiness and sincerity. Everybody gets the joke that they’re in an intentionally campy, in-joke send-up of the original movie, the “stinkaroo” movie as someone on the show describes it. But there’s also some sweetness in between the abundant laughs. Beane has gone a long way toward making sense of the movie by actually giving it a plot, and now the title song, sung in full-tilt, rainbow-flag waving glory at the end, actually makes a modicum of sense. No mean feat.

When a Venice Beach (California) chalk artist meets his muse, he’s inspired to open up a palace that infuses all art forms with something athletic. “I want to open a roller disco,” says Sonny the (very) blond artist (Tim Homsley). “How timeless,” responds Kira, the muse in disguise (Brittany Danielle). It’s amazing her wheels aren’t slipping in the puddles of irony filling the stage.

The goal for both Sonny and Kira (who’s actually the Muse Clio, born of Zeus) is to be granted the “state of Xanadu.” What that is, who can say, but every time the word is uttered, someone pops up to repeat it as if it’s really, really, really important (not unlike the show itself). It’s all ridiculous but in a mostly sublime way. Smart without being overly so and stupid in just the right measure.

And then there are all those songs, most from the original soundtrack with a few ON-J and ELO songs thrown in for good jukebox-y measure. Whether or not these are good songs, I cannot say. They’re my songs. I love them and I still know all the words. So hearing musical director Brandon Adams’ crack quartet spinning out these peppy, poppy tunes is a nostalgic delight.

Enough cannot be said about leading lady Danielle, who sings, jokes and ROLLERSKATES like a dream. Olivia Newton-John wishes she could be so funny and so graceful. And the supporting cast is filled with marvelous moments, large and small. Dyan McBride costumed by Victoria Livingston-Hall and bewigged by Judy Disbrow looks like a cross between Cher and Heart’s Ann Wilson with some Endora from “Bewitched” thrown in for good measure. She’s Melpomene, the oldest Muse, who cackles and giggles because she’s the bad guy along with her sister Calliope, played by the invaluable Maureen McVerry, who behaves as if she’s channeling one of Carol Burnett’s old addled characters. In fact, this whole show reminded me a little of a finale from the old “Carol Burnett Show” – a lot of singing, dancing and expert comedy thrown together by smart people in a hurry. Cheers to choreographer Jennifer Perry for all her knowing winks to the disco era and to set designer Kelly Tighe and lighting designer Kurt Landisman for drawing a thin, thin line between fun and tacky. A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star…

Comic gold is also dispensed by the two cross-dressing Muses, Mark Farrell as Thalia and Evan Boomer as Terpsicore, and Sharon Rietkerk needs an entire show for her nipple-pinching Muse, Erato. And in that show, there should be a showcase for the vocal talents of Caterine Gloria, who plays Muse Euterpe.

Tom Reardon is a hoot as real estate mogul Danny (who once had a fling with a Muse himself), but he brings down the house as Zeus when the action shifts to Mt. Olympus (and Farrell makes such a good Maggie Smith that the “Downton Abbey” folks should be in touch).

This is such an enjoyable production, filled with broad comedy, charming pop and some wonderful calibrated little details that reward the careful observer (and fans of the movie). If, as this show tells us, the theater is going down the toilet with recycled movie mush like this, I’m happy to take the trip in such colorful company.