Theatre review: Xanadu is destined to be this summer’s guilty pleasure

Like an ice-cold Bartles & James in the sun or a Danielle Steel novel curled up on the couch when it rains, the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Xanadu is destined to be this summer’s guiltiest pleasure.

Thanks in a big part to Douglas Carter Beane’s very funny book that skewers the dreadful 1980 Olivia Newton-John film, Xanadu mercifully never takes itself too seriously.  And even when it does dip its toes into its (very) shallow pool of seriousness, Beane doesn’t let it sit there very long knowing the coldness of that pool would suck the heat from this non-stop laugh-fest.

Of course, it would just be just as easy for Beane’s book to fall flat if it weren’t for the tremendous talent on and off the stage in this local production.

Leading the way are Gaelan Beatty as Sonny and Marlie Collins as his muse Clio who are simply dynamite together.  In a sea of memorable 80s hits that include songs like Magic and the title track Xanadau, it was the love theme Suddenly that got to the heart of this show: as the duo sing sweetly of their love together, director Dean Paul Gibson puts them against a ridiculous backdrop of a moving telephone booth.  This ridiculous juxtiposition is repeated throughout the show to great effect.

On her own Collins appeared to be a little shaky as she began some of her numbers, but that may have just been the fact she does most of it on roller skates (as does a good portion of this cast).  Beatty is a triple threat here (singing, acting and roller skating) and exudes a Danny Zuko-like confidence in his short shorts and knee-high tube stocks that immediately makes him so darn likeable.

The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Xanadu. Photo by David Cooper.
The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Xanadu. Photo by David Cooper.

Like director Gibson, Simon Webb hangs up his Shakespearean codpieces for this silly bit of fun and gives a solid and funny performance as both Danny and Zeus.

As the two jealous saboteurs Melpomene and Callipe, Beatrice Zeilinger and Bonnie Panych are hilarious together, giving us the best performances of the night in the downright funny Evil Women.  Panych is particularly good here with her slight hunch and great comedic timing.

The rest of the Greek Chorus are equally strong with J Cameron Barnett bringing down the house with his amazing dancing abilities while channeling Solid Gold’s Darcel Wynne.  Vincent Tong continues to prove his musical theatre prowess and recent Cap College grad Stephanie Liatopoulos continues to be one to watch.

Kevin McAllister’s set design and Rebekka Sorenson’s costumes are a simple but effective fusion of ancient Greece and the 80s, with McAllister’s Pegasus easily one of the best moveable set pieces I have seen in ages, and Sorenson’s centaur costume was enough to illicit both gasps and guffaws.  Lighting designer Gerald King provides just the right amount of glitz where necessary and Andrew Tugwell helps ensure the sound is spot on.  Music director Bill Sample and his four piece band easily handles the non-stop 80s hits.

Go, see this year’s guilty pleasure (we promise not to judge).

4 Out of 5 Stars Xanadu

Book by Douglas Carter Beane.  Music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar.  Based on the Universal Pictures film screenplay by Richard Danus and Marc Rubel.  Directed by Dean Paul Gibson.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through August 4, 2012.  Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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