We here at FIPS spend a hell of a lot of time out and about in Brooklyn, attending outdoor concerts, comedy shows and various other events. So [FIPS Was There...] is where we're gonna' talk about all this shit.
I am what you’d call a Fanadu: a "Fan of Xanadu." I saw the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly disco-movie-musical no less than a billion times growing up. The roller-skating, the legwarmers, the perpetual wind blowing through Olivia Newton-John’s hair: it was all too perfect in my eyes.
Honestly, how my parents didn’t know I was gay back then still baffles me.
Of course, as a kid, I wasn’t paying attention to the absolutely horrible plot. A group of Greek muses, lead by Newton-John’s Kira, come alive out of a mural to inspire an artist named Sonny Malone (the cute Michael Beck) to open a roller disco? Yeah – that’s not exactly Oscar-winning material there. But it doesn’t matter: the movie is so bad, it’s good. I mean, it’s Olivia Newton-John on roller skates, dancing and singing to the music of Electric Light Orchestra. Factor in Gene Kelly, playing some dude Kira inspired forty years earlier, and you have the absolute definition of the word “craptacular.”
My love for the material only grew deeper in 2007, when famed book-writer Douglas Carter Beane turned Xanadu the movie into a full-fledged Broadway musical. A parody of the original film, and of the entire movie-to-jukebox-musical genre, Xanadu the musical was a Tony-nominated critical hit. The show ran for 500 performances – over 20 of which I saw. I told you: Fanadu. I’m not screwing around here people.
So when I sat on the lawn of the Old Stone House last Thursday night to catch the opening night performance of the Piper Theatre’s production of Xanadu, I had high expectations. And believe it or not, none of those expectations were on the fact that I’d actually enjoy myself.
You see, no matter how much I love Xanadu, there’s one thing I totally hate with a fiery passion: outdoor theater. I’m an indoor kid by trait; a fidgety motherfucker who’s prone to mosquito bites and prefers to sit on oversized couches. I was prepared to have a bad time. About ten minutes into the production, however, I sort of forgot all that. Because the Piper Theatre’s production of Xanadu is, like it’s material, so incredibly craptacular that I couldn’t help but smile and have a good time.
First of all, you know all the songs, even if you think you don’t. "Magic," "Suddenly," "All Over the World," "I’m Alive," and "Xanadu" were all Top 20 singles for Newton-John and ELO. Two other big ELO hits not from the movie – "Strange Magic" and "Evil Woman" – were added into the show. There’s also John Farrar’s hit "Have You Never Been Mellow." These are all earworms you’ll be singing for weeks to come. Second, the jokes are just as good as they were on Broadway (though the outdoor setting means sometimes the most subtle jokes fall flat). Trust me: you’ll laugh pretty consistently throughout the show.
It helps that the actors here are all pretty stellar. Alissa Laderer leads the show as Kira, and does a pretty suburb job. Laderer has the most to do in the show, by far. She plays three different characters, jumps back and forth between American, Australian, and southern accents, sings most of the big ballads, and does all of it while wearing roller-skates. Laderer is up for the challenge, playing the comedic moments perfectly. She also sings the fuck out of the score. Damn that girl’s got pipes on her.
Also a stand-out? MaryAnne Piccolo, as Kira’s "Evil Woman" sister Melpomene. As the main villain of the piece, Piccolo milked every scenery-chewing moment she could. It’s an over-the-top performance not only necessary for the piece, but also for any open-air performance. Piccolo’s got a killer voice, and along with her co-conspirator Kelly Blaze (Calliope), pretty much stole the show all night long.
A true ensemble piece, Xanadu is nothing without its band of muses. Director John P. McEneny put together a great group of actors, including Jack Mendes, Ricky Dain Jones, Matthew McGloin, Jennifer Somers Kipley, Linnea Larsdotter, Emily Bodkin, and Arielle Vullo – all of whom work effortlessly together.
The Piper Theatre’s Xanadu is by no means a flawless production. But it doesn’t pretend to be. Stagehands can be seen moving set pieces and changing costumes. Actors skate off stage into tents. Props look like they were glued together. Mics cut in and out. That’s all part of the fun. Like the show essentially tells us, art doesn’t have to be highbrow or perfect. Sometimes, you just need a silly laugh. And for the roughly 300 Park Slopers gathered in the park last Thursday night, we certainly got some.
Xanadu runs at the Old Stone House (336 Third Street, between 4th and 5th Avenue) Thursday and Friday of this week and next (that’s July 12, 13, 19, and 20) at 8 pm. Tickets are free, man.