Play review: ‘Xanadu’

While most elements of the 1980s are voluntarily forgotten, some have left great impressions on the world of pop-culture. Xanadu, originally a reference to the first summer capital of Chinese ruler Kublai Kahn, took on a new meaning in the 80s when it became the title of a poorly received movie about a Greek Muse starring Olivia Newton John. Fast forward 30 years, and now the concept can be appreciated in another form: theatre.

“Xanadu” stars Rochester Hills native David Havasi, who plays the dim but lovable artist Sonny Malone. Allison Hunt plays Sonny’s literal and figurative muse, Clio. Clio’s fellow muses are played by Joseph Feldmann as Thalia (as well as a specter from the past), Janet Caine as Euterpe, Katie Hardy as Erato, Eric Gutman as Terpiscore, Lisa Lauren Smith as Calliope, and Jennifer George as Melpomene. The cast is rounded out by Paul Hopper who plays both real estate mogul Danny Maguire and the king of the gods, Zeus.

“Xanadu” opened on May 23 at Meadow Brook Theatre and includes elements of entertainment rarely seen at Meadow Brook, including a full band playing songs from the 70s and 80s, outrageous props, hidden stage entrances, roller skates, on-stage audience seating and even a memorable desktop tap dancing performance from Feldmann.

“It was a weird adjustment, practicing on the floor then moving to the desk,” Feldmann said.

While the high caliber set and many colorful costumes are definite draws for the play, it is the comedy that truly sets it apart from other Meadow Brook Theatre productions. The actors often deliver comedic lines with deadpan seriousness to great effect. In one such scene, Sonny is being introduced to Clio’s sisters, one of whom is Gutman’s Terpiscore. Sonny and Terpiscore then stare at each other’s faces from very close proximity in an uncomfortably comedic way.

The entire cast participates in one comedic moment or another. Some of them are off stage jokes about their acting skills.

“The three archetypes I’m using as a general model are Napoleon Dynamite, Derrick Zoolander and Ron Burgundy,” Havasi said. “I really don’t act; I just do impressions of them on certain lines. No, I do actually try to manufacture some emotion.”

The draw for the play is the comedy but that scheme is only successful because of the range of jokes used. One joke is hidden as a chair in a scene on Mount Olympus. One joke pokes fun at a very famous musical theatre writer. One joke even goes as far back to the 40’s to make fun of a famous actor.

“It’s great for people who normally don’t go to the theatre,” said Caine. “It’s a perfect outlet for them. People should come to see this show because of the pop music, and the 80’s. Anyone who lived in the 80’s should see this show.”

Director Travis Walter made great efforts to keep the show fresh and appealing by focusing on the complex humor.

“It’s really fun to watch the slow burn on some of the jokes as they (the audience) get it little by little,” said Walter. “The onstage seating allows people to sit in the cockpit. We’ve had kids who’ve wanted to sit there. It really is for all ages.”

Havasi said the raises the bar in what has been performed at Meadow Brook.

“It’s one of the more ambitious shows that Meadow Brook has ever done,” said Havasi. “I’ve been coming here my whole life to see shows, and it’s the most ambitious one I’ve ever seen. I think you’ll genuinely leave the theatre feeling a lot better than when you came in. So if you’re feeling good when you come in you feel great when you leave. It’s an hour and a half of laughing.”

“Xanadu” runs until June 17 at Meadow Brook Theatre on Oakland University campus.