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Robrt Pela: Review Of Xanadu

I’m afraid I have seen Xanadu.

I put it off as long as I could. But this hugely popular and perfectly dreadful stage musical, based on one of the worst movie musicals of all time, refuses to go away. Following its triumphant Broadway run in 2007, Xanadu took to the road. After which it began turning up in estimable playhouses, like our own Arizona Theatre Company.

We are doomed, it would appear, to be forever reminded of a greasy-faced Michael Beck, roller-skating past garishly frescoed brick walls and crowds of extras dressed as mimes; of poor Gene Kelly, slumming his way through a wispy memory of his salad days, when movie musicals were scored by Porter and Gershwin. We must revisit the undoing of the formerly upmarket Electric Light Orchestra; to recall a Sominex-ed, gauzily clad Olivia Newton-John, sleepwalking straight into a career lull from which she'd never recover.

I want to take some pleasure in knowing that the theatrical Xanadu is in on the joke, because Douglas Carter Beane's book is a broad spoof of its sleazy cinematic counterpart. But I can't, because I want the theater goers and the people who are steering the musical theater industry to be past all this nudge-and-wink nonsense. I want there to be more original musicals and less nostalgic navel-gazing. I want there to be a phrase to describe the death of the musicalization of lamentable Hollywood blunders.

But no one is asking me what I think. Not Xanadu's producers, nor Olivia Newton-John fans, nor the droves of people who are going to line up to watch this musical satire of a bad movie about ancient Greek muses who come to Earth to inspire a roller disco. And certainly not Jeff Lynne of ELO, whose songs have been lifted wholesale from the movie and who is, therefore, receiving giant royalty checks without lifting a finger.

Xanadu continues through Jan. 19. Robrt Pela’s theater reviews appear each week in the New Times.

In any case, the opening night audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. We were asked to do a choreographed cheer; to cast a spell on an Equity actor, and to sing along with some of the most flaccid pop music of the early 80s. So: If it was painful to hear Jeff Lynne’s multi-tracked original arrangements played by a puny band of four musicians, or to have to hear again the thudding banality of the Xanadu megahit "Magic," it would appear it was painful only for me.

And yet, to Xanadu I went. I had to. I was afraid that if I didn’t go see Xanadu, it would track me down and force me to watch it. And I’m pretty certain that the only thing worse than a cheesy spoof of a crummy musical is a cheesy spoof of a crummy musical blasting away in my living room.