I would be hard pressed to name a musical that takes itself less seriously than “Xanadu,” which opened Thursday night at the NorShor Theatre. Especially the way director Phillip Fazio and choreographer Amber Burns amped up the silliness.
The quintessential scene of this production comes early when Quinn Lorez and Maddie Schafer as the Muses Melpomene and Calliope rip through “Evil Woman.” While Lorez delivers the big vocals, Schafer channels Kristen Wiig and Cecily Strong at the same time and kills the comic counterpoint.
The audience loved everything those two did the rest of the night (e.g., “Strange Magic”), especially when Schafer was suddenly playing Aphrodite.
All I remember about “Xanadu” the movie was watching Olivia Newton-John dancing with Gene Kelly and thinking you could see the 8-counts in her eyes. It was so bad it, inspired the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards.
But the stage version laughs at itself first and then makes the audience laugh along with it all night long.
The setup is simple. Stuart Gordon’s struggling artist Sonny is in desperate need of artistic inspiration. Then, boy meets Muse. Specifically Kelly Killorin’s Clio.
Just like in “Gremlins,” Clio is warned to remember three important rules that must never be broken: do not let anyone know you are a muse, do not create any art yourself, and do not fall in love with a mortal.
You will never guess what ends up happening.
Clio changes her name to Kira, dons roller skates and leg warmers, adopts an Australian accent, and sets off to inspire Sonny.
Because her voice is pitched lower and has more weight to it than Newton-John’s, Killorin makes every song her own, starting with “Magic” (a No. 1 tune back in the day). More importantly, she has solid comedic chops.
Gordon’s Sonny is as dumb as a post until he starts singing “Suddenly” and becomes momentarily suave. Gordon has his best vocal moments in “Don’t Walk Away.”
Michael Kraklio plays Danny, who owns the property Sonny wants to use, and who knew Kira when Clio was Kitty, thereby creating a love triangle 40 years in the making. In “Whenever You’re Away From Me,” Kraklio provides a rare heartfelt moment.
There are nine Muses but two of them are supposedly playing in the pit orchestra so there are only seven onstage, with Patrick Timmons, Thressa Schultz, Haley Methner (who defines “real trooper” since she was in all four shows I saw this summer) and Eric Romero completing the roster and playing multiple parts throughout the evening.
Most of the songs are written by Jeff Lynne, combining recognizable Electric Light Orchestra hits with new songs written for the movie, with the others written by John Farrar specifically for Newton-John (including one song decidedly not in the film).
Before the show, Fazio proclaimed that “Live theater is back in Duluth!” About a third of the seats were filled, double what it was for the Playhouse’s musical reviews performed under pandemic conditions, but half of where it should be for a show this much fun.
If you go
When: Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. July 15-Aug. 30; Sunday at 2 p.m. July 25 and Aug. 1
Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.
Tickets: Start at $40. Call 218-733-7555 or duluthplayhouse.org/main-stage.
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune.