It’s Magic—Strange Magic

Xanadu deserves a full house and a standing ovation for every one of its remaining performances.

So . . . if the initial performance of SLO Rep’s current homage to the 1980s is any indication, the theatre has a hit on its hands with its production of film-turned-Broadway-phenomenon Xanadu

Photo by RyLo Media Design, Ryan C. Loyd

The packed-house opening night audience couldn’t contain its appreciation for the performers (troopers, and very good ones, all), for the costumes, for the dancing, and yes, for the roller skating—expressing approval not just during the curtain call but throughout the evening. Thankfully, despite the introduction of a disco ball halfway through the 90-minute show (no intermission) and more than a dozen ‘80s songs (some memorable, some not), only snippets of the popular dance craze invaded the creative and eclectic choreography designed by Kelly Fidopiastis.

It’s hard not to appreciate the work of these fine nine actors and their director, who lets them wring every single laugh you can imagine—and some you can’t—out of the script, the set, the props. You’d be amazed as a refreshing and freehearted Cameron James Parker (as Venice street artist Sonny) and an uninhibited Carley Herlihy (as Olivia Newton John—oops, that should be Clio) together take a telephone booth and incorporate it into a comic pas-de-deux (or perhaps pas-de-trois?) to the strains of “Suddenly.” 

Our young leading lovers must overcome a lot of other nonsense, and nonsense it is—director Kevin Harris even says so in the program notes—but it’s nonsense of the very-well-executed kind.

It’s the kind of stage business (usually associated with The Great American Melodrama in Oceano) that inspires hearty cackles and whoops of laughter. It’s the absolutely hilarious Amanda Thayer and Shannon Peters (as Calliope and Melpomene) leading a chorus of “Evil Woman.” It’s the ultra-talented Isaac Capp (as young Danny) doing a tap dance on a desk. It’s a debonair Seth Blackburn (as Danny) delivering his lines and his dance steps with perfect timing. It’s newcomer Ish Petersen (as Terpsicore) not missing a step as he transforms into a prancing centaur (among other costume changes too numerous to count). SLO Rep veterans Taylor Hart (as Erato—you may remember her from The Fantasticks) and Lauren Moore (as Euterpe—you may remember her from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) round out the multi-talented cast that in tandem doesn’t let the opportunity to flash a little cash or to throw a wink in the audience’s direction go by.

Alessandra Alcala in her role as musical director must have had her hands full keeping the singers on tempo in the midst of all this comedy, but clearly she kept her hands tight on the reins. The musical numbers come off without a hitch (but with much hilarity, it must be said).

Wearing multiple hats as is his wont, Kevin Harris designed the spot-on lighting (as well as the sound), and he doesn’t miss a chance to augment the story with strobe lights, filters, projections, and smoke (but no mirrors, except on that disco ball).

Newcomer Jacqueline Heimel must have had the most fun of anyone not on the stage. As the costume designer, she luxuriated in silver and gold lamé, created caps of clouds, and built workable and danceable outfits for several Greek gods and muses (not to mention the aforementioned centaur).

On the technical side, one question remains, however, as there is no credit in the program: who is responsible for the winged Pegasus that transports Olivia—oops, Clio—to the top of Mt. Olympus when it comes time for her to abandon her boyfriend and her spotty Australian accent? And what has any of this to do with Xanadu? Don’t ask. Just go along for the ride.

In fact, all the elements of this production come together to rival the fun and the silliness you might expect from a really good production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Or Spamalot, based on a 1975 Monty Python film. It seems the seventies and eighties can inspire some of the best celluloid-to-Broadway nonsense to be had in a theatre-going experience these days.

No way around it, SLO Rep’s production of Xanadu deserves a full house and a standing ovation—in advance—for every one of its remaining performances.

Xanadu plays now through July 3 at San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre, 888 Morro Street, San Luis Obispo. More Information