‘Xanadu’: skating into hearts of MC audiences

Alan Reihl's last production at Maryville College became a hit, as "Xanadu" was performed at the Clayton Center. Reihl plans to retire after the spring semester. Photo courtesy of broadwayinchicago.com

Can a play be both indefensible and irresistibly enjoyable at once? Of course it can! Witness “Xanadu,” a 1980s movie spoof turned musical that recently hit the Haslam Family Flexible Theatre here at Maryville College.

This play adaptation of the 1980s film by the same title is a light-hearted romantic comedy that fuses Greek mythology with the Venice Beach, California roller skating scene. The preposterous mix of the Greek gods and goddesses with ‘80s roller disco provides a funny backdrop throughout the roughly 90-minute musical.

A frustrated artist named Sonny Malone (Jarrett Yoder) is unable to create a revolutionarily new artistic idea. The Greek gods send down the demigod Clio (Bailey Stipes) to be his muse and inspiration. Clio pretends to be an Australian roller-skater who inspires Sonny with the idea of converting an abandoned building into a roller disco named Xanadu.

Why, you may wonder, would anyone deem it necessary to pay lavish mock homage to a cheesy ‘80s movie by exhuming it to exhibition on stage? Well, simply put, many gut-busting laughs are to ensue. The only way to go when you’re doing a stage version of a wildly popular but critical disaster of a movie is to spoof it up.

Dr. Heather McMahon, the director and creative force behind the production, explained the process of bringing this particular play to life.

“You have to recognize the convictions that this play represents,” she said. “To portray the exaggeration that is throughout ‘Xanadu,’ we must ‘Play it bigger.’”

And play it big, they did. With the amount of work and hours put into the theatre’s first musical, this has been one of the department’s most strenuous productions so far. This is due to the live band, technical crew, choreography, and the singing and skating lessons that it combined takes to make this production possible.

“There is a lot of blood sweat and tears, literally,” McMahon said.

McMahon claimed that she is proud of the hard work and dedication of the cast and crew, as well.

“This six-week production of ‘Xanadu’ was accomplished in the time we would have had for a play without music and choreography.”

The ensemble cast of 11 members, backed by a live band, thrilled and entertained audiences with their up-roaring performance. However, the road to this musical’s success was indeed a bumpy one—especially on skates.

Lesli Crowe and Caitlin Campell play two of the muse sisters. They commented on the work it took to put the show together.

“In combination with singing and movement, it was a challenge to add skating to the aspect,” Crowe said.

When asked about the precarious process of learning simultaneously to skate and sing, Crowe and Campbell only laughed and admitted there were some very funny falls.

Much to their director’s relief, no one has been seriously injured yet.

“They are used to dealing with just acting,” McMahon said. “The cast has amazed me with their enthusiasm. They even practice for fun and teach each other new skating tricks.”

Many of the actors had no idea how to skate prior to production.  Even more surprising, many cast members had to learn to create their own costumes, like the oh-so-popular centaur. An attachment trailing behind one actor turned him into the mythical creature.

“Nevertheless,” Campbell said, “the entire process has brought all of us together through our weaknesses and our strengths, as well.”

Combined with the collective dedication, ascetic appeal of the ‘80s theme and the intimacy of the Flex Theatre, the “Xanadu” cast has skated into our hearts and made this one of the most unforgettable and laugh-filled nights at the theater.



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