North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, which had a surprise hit last fall with “Carrie,” tops that success with the musical “Xanadu.” This spunky community theater offers its most elaborate production yet, boasting fine talent, clever direction and admirable creativity.
The 1980 film “Xanadu,” a what-were-they-thinking roller disco fantasy, is often cited as the worst movie ever made. But for the 2007 Broadway musical, playwright Douglas Carter Beane turned the film’s sappy spirituality into a hilarious spoof of the movie and the disco era, while also creating an engaging romance and an uplifting live-your-dreams theme.
The new plot is so complicated that it must suffice to explain that it concerns down-and-out artist Sonny, whose sidewalk mural of Greek muses comes to life, including Clio, who is to be his personal muse. In a sign of the times, Sonny decides that all the arts would come together in a roller disco. Clio uses her powers to help Sonny accomplish that goal but breaks Zeus’ rule by falling in love with a mortal.
It’s director-choreographer James Ilsley’s deft balance of parody and humanity that make this 90-minute, intermission-less show work. He’s instilled that understanding in the cast, whose admirable energy, precision and confidence allow ready acceptance of the punning one-liners and satiric staging. With co-choreographer and co-director Jess Barbour, Ilsley spins a gloriously giddy romp, including several numbers on roller skates, exuberantly buoyed by Michael Santangelo’s musical direction.
Brian Westbrook’s “Valley guy” Sonny is lovably goofy but also warmly human, especially in several well-sung solos. Lauren Knott’s Clio is suitably spirited and spiritual, beautifully managing the several accents and singing styles required.
As the evil muses out to get Clio, Rose Higgins’ over-the-top but not overdone Melpomene and Heather Shinpaugh’s simpering sidekick Calliope bring down the house repeatedly. Dan Mason’s gruff Danny, the real estate mogul, is convincingly sung and characterized, and he’s hysterically pompous as Zeus. The other five cast members seem twice as many, changing characters in Ann Haigler’s outrageously glitzy costumes.
In the company’s make-do storefront theater, the production’s physical rough edges are counterbalanced by some impressive technical effects. Overall, the show should send audiences discoing out of the theater with smiles and giggles.