“Set squarely in 1980, Xanadu is cheesy and campy, with a fabulous love story and a passion for art,” says Charlie Packard, executive producer at the Aurora Fox Arts Center. Xanadu, June 1–3 at 7pm, is the eighth annual free Theatre on The Green production brought by the Aurora Fox.
The 1980 film Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, was a box office flop that was panned by critics. But over time it became a cult classic that drew Broadway producers to re-envision it for the stage. “Broadway shows often are inspired by movies,” said Packard. “Producers were aware that Xanadu appealed to audiences, so in 2007 they created a hit that ran for more than a year. It won awards for best musical and best book [script], and was nominated for several Tony Awards. Maybe it belongs on the stage.”
The plot of Xanadu concerns the intersection of humans with Greek demigods. In Venice Beach, Calif., artist Sonny Malone is dissatisfied with his sidewalk mural of the seven Greek muses and decides to kill himself. The youngest muse, Clio, determined to help him, rises out of the mural disguised as the roller-skating “Kira.” Inspired by Kira, Sonny decides that he can combine all the arts and “something athletic” into one spectacular entertainment: a roller disco. The pair finds a long-abandoned theater in Los Angeles and they overcome many obstacles to turn it into a successful roller disco, Xanadu.
The musical is a humorous parody of the 1980 movie. “Doing Xanadu now in that style is vastly more interesting than it was in 1980,” said Packard. “Then, pop culture was cheesy because it was struggling out of the ’70s and hadn’t made the shift into the ’80s. Telling the story now is very different because we know where the country and art have been for the last 35 years. There are lots of inside jokes, like when Kira disguises herself by wearing leg warmers and skates and adopting an Australian accent. These jokes will go straight over the kids’ heads and land on their parents. While the fifth-graders are dancing by the stage, the 40-year-olds will belly laugh and have a hard time explaining it to their kids.”
Packard says he looks for shows that appeal to new theater-goers. “At Stapleton, very young people are getting their first live theater experience. We make it visually exciting, with great music and dance that make it a magical experience.”