ReVision’s Vision of “Xanadu”: Blurry

What a pleasure it was at last Friday’s performance of Xanadu to observe a group of 32 youngsters from Camp R.O.B.I.N. as they enjoyed the show from front seats in a section across from me. (Recreation in Old Bridge for those In Need). The campers, who attend a concert or theatrical event every Friday night during the summer, were really into Xanadu.

So a big shout-out to ReVision Theatre for their involvement (and reduced ticket price) and to the town of Old Bridge, whose bus-vans got the campers to Asbury Park.

(That Xanadu has great appeal to campers might be the most irresistible pun in history. If you don’t get that, no matter; the review follows.)

Adapted from the 1980 movie that became a cult classic, and with some plot elements and humor added by Douglas Carter Beane (Tony-nominated The Little Dog Laughed), Xanadu pokes fun at ‘80s disco culture and at the source movie. (The movie itself was god-awful. The soundtrack album went double platinum. What were the odds.)

Bernard Dotson and Alyse Alan Louis ace "Whenever You're Away From Me"

Greek muse Clio (Alyse Alan Louis) is on a mission to inspire street-artist Sonny (Ralph Meitzler) who wants to establish a roller disco in Venice Beach, California. (Ever on the cutting edge, Venice Beach now labels itself “the birthplace of modern skateboarding.”) To blend in, goddess Clio becomes Kira, an Australian transplant who navigates on roller skates. (One assumes, by her limited proficiency, that roller skating isn’t very big Down Under.)

The movie’s musical score, by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, is virtually intact, with the addition of a couple of Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra numbers and Farrar’s “Have You Never Been Mellow.”

Falling in love with a mortal is a Mt. Olympus no-no, punishable by banishment to the netherworld. Will Clio’s jealous sisters invoke that exact curse on her? And will that love be returned by Sonny unto Kira? Will Zeus relent so the couple can be together? Will the hard-bitten realtor (Bernard Dotson) allow the unused Xanadu Theater to become a disco? Will one of the Greek sirens (Thay Floyd) be a drag queen?  Will the finale of ELO tunes and the musical curtain call go on forever? If you answer ‘no’ to any of the above, you’ll be the first.

Lest you think I condescend to the R.O.B.I.N. attendees, know that I also found a lot to enjoy in Xanadu. Musical director Michael Thomas Murray’s five-piece band is terrific – and not overpowering. As Sonny, Meitzler looks like a beachy dude, sings very nicely and is an adept roller skater – for one all-too-brief scene.  Mr. Dotson, who sang on Broadway in Finian’s Rainbow and Sweet Smell of Success, is also a darn good soft shoe hoofer, whose agility belies his bulk. The “Whenever You’re Away From Me” throwback song-and-dance duet with Ms. Alan Louis is a high point of the show (and her best work).

Kira and the four Greek Gods soothing the irate Zeus with Mellow is another winning interlude – mostly because they sing the hummable number straight. (No pun intended there.) Mr. Floyd’s elegantly gowned and coiffed Melpomene is outrageous and…okay, I’ll say it: stunning.

So yes, there’s a lot to like here, but the list doesn’t include the mostly unimaginative costumes. (Kira’s three outfits range from a blah white Goddess semi-mini, to a dandy dancin’ dress in red (see pic) and to the finale when she’s shoehorned into a really ungainly outfit.) Michael Mindlin’s choreography is, shall we say, loose, for which part of the blame must fall to director David E. Leidholdt and a non-dancer cast, the Dotson/Louis number excepted.

Factor in a spotty sound system that doesn’t help Ms. Alan Louis’s high-pitched speaking voice and the fact that some of the more sophisticated show-bizzy attitudes and references go by the board, and you have a glass half-full, half empty theatrical evening.

That may be good enough for undemanding mid-summer evening audiences, but it shouldn’t be for the ardent ReVision Theatre folks, who, with Xanadu, seem more intent on entertaining one another than on presenting a thoroughly professional product. (And that’s one definition – at least a characteristic – of ‘camp’.)

“Xanadu” runs through July 24 at the Carousel Theater building on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. Performances are Wed-Sat at 8pm; Sun at 7pm. Tickets ($18-$53):   

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