For its 100th show, SpeakEasy Stage is lighting up audiences (Cue the glow sticks!) with the pop rock infused XANADU. First it was a hack movie (according to Leonard Maltin) starring Rita Hayworth as the muse who comes to earth. Then the film was remade (and bombed) as a roller skating vehicle for Olivia Newton-John. Now Douglas Carter Beane has rewritten the book, sending up Newton-John and the preposterous story ---while retaining the music and the skates! At last, Magic! (Just for the record, the musical has nothing to do with Coleridge, except the title and a throwaway verse.)
Old time rock ‘n rollers swear they were impervious to Top Forty hits like “Have You Never Been Mellow” but Jeff Lynne’s clever hooks made it through the blood/brain barrier. I was humming “Strange Magic” and “Evil Woman” back in the day, despite myself. Imagine my delight when they reappear to spectacular effect in the musical. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that funny lady Shana Dirik can deliver a hokey lyric to beat the band just by crooking an eyebrow. She and Kathy St. George are the hilarious “evil women” who goose the plot into motion.
Director Paul Daigneault mines nugget after nugget of comic gold and a great deal of the credit goes to McCaela Donovan as the muse who defies Zeus and falls in love with a mortal (Ryan Overberg as the roller skating chalk artist with a dream). She’s wistful. She’s calculating. She’s sardonic. No, she’s naïve. She lets you in on the joke without any betrayal of character. It’s a performance only a muse could pull off.
Cheo Bourne and Patrick Connolly join Val Sullivan and Kami Rushell Smith in the muse department, bumping up the camp. Robert Saoud, too, has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as the original club owner and as the all powerful Zeus. Paul Daigneault and music director Nicholas James Connell make SpeakEasy’s leap into “disco heaven” a gas, even for this old rocker.