There really is nothing quite as wonderful as being surprised at the theatre -- what is better than having your jaded old bones proven wrong by something spectacular?
Because, to be honest, "Oh yeah, it's an '80s musical based on that really bad and confusing movie with Olivia Newton-John where everyone rollerskates" sounds like nightmare town. But put away your claws and side-eyes, pussy cats, because Village Theatre's season kick-off production of "Xanadu" is so funny and enjoyable, you would have to be made of stone not to have a great time. The live band, bedecked in rock mullets, is a kick in the pants; the singing, led by Jessica Skerritt and Dane Stokinger, is excellent; and the jokes, which come in both deliciously cheap and nose-tappingly witty, just keep coming.
The greatest strength of this production is that it unapologetically embraces the absurdity of the premise, one-ups it, and then grins at the audience as if to say "Your move." No one could make more fun of "Xanadu" than "Xanadu," and that is why it is seriously amazing. While it checks off the musical comedy trope boxes, it does it with such wit and pizzazz that you eagerly look forward to the next gag. This could not have been pulled off without a cast of actors with exquisite comedic timing and David Ira Goldstein, a director who absolutely knew what he was doing.
The "Xanadu" plot line is pretty simple: nine Greek muses are sent to 1980s Venice Beach to inspire a young cut-offs-wearing gentleman to make art in the face of a curmudgeonly old rich guy who wants to ruin their plans until he realizes the meaning of life and his heart grows three sizes that day. Also, the head muse is a hot blonde who has never fallen in love before UNTIL. . .
Jessica Skerritt as head muse "Clio/Kira," recently seen at The 5th in "Hairspray: the Concert" and in ACT and The 5th's "Grey Gardens," is adorable and funny with the voice of a star. Dane Stokinger, no stranger to Village and The 5th and with national tour credits, is wonderful as the lovably clueless sidewalk chalk artist "Sonny Malone"; he's like a golden retriever puppy on skates. Jeff Steitzer, another ACT and 5th Ave vet, perfectly plays "Danny," the grumpy executive who needs to be reminded of his youth's ambitions.
In the meantime, the evil tag-team of Melpomene, the tragedy muse, and Calliope, the muse of epics, are trying to get Clio kicked out of the Muse Club. Lisa Estridge, "Melpomene," has an impressive and versatile voice perfectly used for the number "Evil Woman." Christine Riippi as "Calliope" has a seriously enviable deadpan delivery and performs some of the best physical comedy of the show -- apparently it's been a Greek sorta year for Riippi, as she recently played "Pseudolus" in Renton Civic Theatre's "Forum" (and no doubt was hilarious).
Village brought back David Ira Goldstein, the Artistic Director of the Arizona Theatre Company, to guest direct and we have a winner here, folks. Goldstein's direction was made for this comedy, which, done without nuance, could just be a disco wash of hell. The quips are quick, the timing flawless -- Goldstein's "Xanadu" is a well-oiled '80s machine that could not be having any more fun without some sort illicit drug involved.
To be clear, the book saves this show -- the songs, while well-done, are mostly forgettable, save perhaps "Evil Woman." That being said, the book is clever enough to make fun of that shortcoming, too. While there is a "Making art is good!" moral thrown in there for good measure, it feels like it's slipped in there to justify its own existence rather than to further the cause.
Not that you really care, because, you know, it's funny.
So take your kids, take your girlfriends, and go see this show. You don't have to have seen the movie, know how to rollerskate, or care about the 80's as a decade/style/movement in order to enjoy a colorful stage full of talent and verve.
Issaquah: Now through Oct 20
Everett: Oct 25 - Nov 17
For tickets, visit www.villagetheatre.org