Theater Review: “Xanadu” at Signature Theatre

Signature’s latest is a hilarious send-up of the over-the-top ’80s that benefits from an almost universally solid cast.

By: Leslie Milk

Do you know where your leg warmers are? The year is 1980: the era of big hair, glow sticks, and rock groups known more for their amps and their outrageous outfits than for their musical abilities. When the movies were good, they were very, very good. And when they were bad they were Ishtar. Or Xanadu.

Xanadu, of course, is the painfully bad flick that kicked off the decade fashion forgot, starring Australian singing sensation Olivia Newton-John (Grease) as the Greek muse Clio, who defies her father, Zeus, and exceeds her assigned role as an inspiration by falling in love with a mortal and actually creating art.

What was painful on film is sheer pleasure in this camp stage adaptation, which was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2008. Signature Theatre associate artistic director Matthew Gardiner knows how to take a joke, cover it with glitter, dress it in high heels, and send it skittering across the stage with glee. This production is a delight because of his deft touch.

The stage is lit with neon palm trees. The costumes are ancient Greece-meets-Kiss. The disco balls shine on audience and actors alike. Erin Weaver plays Clio, renamed Kira and assuming an Australian accent when she descends to earth to “inspire” hapless artist Sonny Malone (Charlie Brady). She carries the show, and she carries it off brilliantly. The girl can sing, dance, and act--and often, she does it all backward while on roller skates.

Weaver has some impressive backup. Her two jealous sisters, Calliope (Sherri L. Edelen) and Melpomene (Nova Y. Payton), who perform the showstopping duet “Evil Woman,” are divas worthy of divinity. Harry A. Winter also shines as Danny Maguire, a Los Angeles developer whose youthful artistic dreams were once inspired by Clio. His pure tenor and sure-footed grace makes you love him even when he’s threatening to take a wrecking ball to Sonny Malone’s creative dreams.

Alas, Sonny looks all the more flat-footed because of the agile actors who surround him. The character is supposed to be clueless, but Brady can’t infuse him with enough charm to make us believe a muse would abandon immortality for the chance to live with him on earth. Maybe Clio/Kira will create her own art, and he can clean her paintbrushes or carry her chisel or whatever. Regardless, get to Xanadu—on roller skates or not.

Xanadu is at Signature Theatre through July 1. Tickets ($62 to $86) are available through Signature’s website.