Xanadooo-ooo-ooo (now we are here)

Jul 05

Should we be taking it as an omen that the first big musical of the new theater season is Xanadu?

And is that a good omen or not?

A Theater Dogs spy who saw an early preview says it’s definitely a bad omen. And judging from the way cast members are literally falling out of the show, we might have to consider this not such an auspicious beginning.

Any musical that incorporates “Have You Never Been Mellow” into a musical has a problem. I’m smelling Saturday Night Fever all over again (the stage adaptation of course). Speaking of SNF, the star of that Broadway bomb, James Carpinello, was starring in Xanadu. Notice the verb “was.” But during one of the roller skating moments, Mr. Carpinello broke his anklein three places — in THREE PLACES — and had to be replaced by Cheyenne Jackson.

Now, all sympathy to Mr. Carpinello, but Mr. Jackson is, I’m sorry to say this Mr. Carpinello, a big improvement. Jackson, the erstwhile star of All Shook Up (somebody please get this man a GOOD show!) is a charismatic charmer, which is exactly what a show like Xanadu, a lame movie-to-stage adaptation beefed up with ’80s jukebox hits, desperately needs.

OK, time to come clean. I’ve held a grudge against Xanadu ever since the 1980 film came out. I bought the LP at the grocery store before I actually saw the movie and completely fell in love with it. Side 1 was Olivia Newton-John singing “Magic” and “Suddenly” (with Cliff Richard) and “Whenever You’re Away from Me” (with Gene Kelly), and Side 2 was ELO singing “All Over the World” and “I’m Alive” and, of course, the title song, with Ms. Newton-John. My favorite track was ONJ and the Tubes singing “Dancin’.” Her voice was over-dubbed to sound like a ’40s girl group, and her big-band song blended with the rockin’ Tubes song for one of the original mash-ups.

Then I saw the movie. In a word: blech. Even at 13 years old I knew trash when I saw it (and no cracks about Grease 2 here, that’s actually quality kitsch — there’s a difference). The movie didn’t match at all the brilliant piece of cinema I had crafted in my head while listening to the album (mostly Side 1, sorry ELO).

And now the movie has made metamorphosed into a Broadway show with a book by Douglas Carter Beane, who is not an untalented writer and is, in fact, pretty funny.

But the leading man roller skated his way out of the show, and another ensemble member just left with injuries. Let’s hope nothing happens to leading lady Kerry Butler (whom Bay Area audiences saw in The Opposite of Sex, the misguided musical at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre). The show opens July 10.

Let’s hope the camp factor is high and the derisive laughter low. “And now, open your eyes and see, what we have made is real. We are in Xanaduuuuuuuu.”

Check out the official Web site (which has ONJ on the musical loop) here.

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