Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s Xanadu
Spoiler alert for readers not current on 1980s’ kitsch: The musical Xanadu has nothing to do with Citizen Kane or with Coleridge’s poem of the same name. The motif of creating a stately pleasure dome, however, does link all three disparate references to Xanadu.
Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre ends its 2012 season irrepressibly with goofy fun. Set in 1980 — the era of leg warmers and big-hair bands — as a tongue-in-cheek theatrical send up of a bad movie musical, Xanadu simply shouldn’t work. The plot: Olympian muses (think the gods, not the athletes) travel to 1980 California to meddle in human affairs.
Muses set curses on each other, a disco roller rink is deemed an answer to creativity, and muse and human fall in love. Improbably, this silliness works. Success rises from the music and this production’s cast, choreography, energy level and compact direction.
Director Melissa Huston and choreographer Felicity Stiverson deliver ingenuity and wit. Stiverson works wonders of distinctive choreography on the small stage. Sarah Kendrick’s costumes set the tone. Ken Kimble provides, as usual, the perfect musical accompaniment.
Driving Xanadu are repurposed pop songs such as Evil Woman, Strange Magic, Dancin’, and Have You Never Been Mellow. Integrated into the action and very well sung, the songs are so well known that audiences join in virtual sing-alongs.
Leads Carol Anne Drescher and Jeffrey Walter are sweet, charming and befuddled, fun to watch and delightful to hear. Bob Brewer’s Danny brings adult yearnings to the silliness.
The six muses portray both a cohesive unit and six unique personalities, thanks to director and actors. Michael Windsor gives us entertaining exposition and David Wojciehowski gives us strong dancing and a glimpse of a powerful singing voice. Erin MacDonald and Cristina Shunk showcase comedic and dance skills.
The two muses who cause trouble and cast spells are played with wicked abandon by Jenifer Grundy Hollett and Lauren Winther-Hansen, whose firm control on their tongue-in-cheek humor, daring in vocal and physical comedy and exuberant fun, makes the audience look forward to their next entrance.
Xanadu is an improbable show that works because it doesn’t take itself seriously and because it lets the audience in on the inside jokes. Cast and crew do likewise, producing a theatrical experience that has you humming and stepping lightly as you step out into the Annapolis night.
Book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. Stage manager: Neil Codner. Technical director: Matthew Mitchell.
Playing thru Sept. 2 Th-Su at 8:30pm at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.