In our socially and politically fraught times, live theater can work toward helping to heal the divide between fractured segments of society and point out the sympathetic humanity that’s necessary to light the way toward a brighter tomorrow.
But sometimes you just need something to make you laugh and tap your toes to an infectious beat.
That’s where shows like TexArts’ production of “Xanadu” come in. Playing through March 3, “Xanadu” is a 2007 musical comedy based on the 1980s film flop of the same name. The film, starring Olivia Newton-John, was widely derided, but the soundtrack was a hit, spawning several hit singles, and thus provided the opportunity for a stage adaptation full of catchy, familiar tunes.
“Xanadu” succeeds as a stage musical (with a book by Douglas Carter and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynn and John Farrar) where the film failed precisely because it embraces the late-'70s/early-'80s campiness that defined the film’s aesthetics. Refusing to ever take itself seriously, and constantly winking at the audience, “Xanadu” tells the story of a Greek muse who comes to Earth to inspire an artist, only to fall in love with him; hilarity ensues.
Oh, and there’s lots of roller-skating and a couple extra Electric Light Orchestra songs thrown in, too.
TexArts is one of Austin’s finest purveyors of goofy, absurdist musical comedies, and “Xanadu” falls precisely in their sweet spot. Director Jarret Mallon never lets the audience forget for a second that this is a silly romp, and never misses an opportunity for a site gag or a knowing wink. Decked out in costumes designed by Emily Jean Gilardi that equally evoke ancient Greece and Venice Beach, the cast clearly delights in the campiness of it all.
Mandy Foster (as head muse Clio) and Daniel Drewes (as starving artist Sonny) strike a perfect balance between romantic chemistry and knowing parody, knocking up against the fourth wall without ever quite breaking it. That task is left to the neo-vaudevillian comedic villainy of fellow muses Melpomene (Megan Richards Wright) and Calliope (Amy Nichols), who mug it up every second they’re on stage to delightful effect. Huck Huckaby, meanwhile, plays businessman Danny Maguire with a wistfulness and nostalgic longing that brings a few moments of poignancy to an otherwise manic storyline.
Don’t expect TexArts’ “Xanadu” to change the way you view the world, because that’s not something it sets out to do (nor should it). But do be sure to check it out if you’re looking to have a very good time and leave with a smile on your face and an infectious song in your head.
("Xanadu" continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday through March 3. $43. Kam & James Morris Theatre, 2300 Lohmans Spur, Ste. 160. tex-arts.org.)