‘Xanadu’ was flamboyant.
Rollerblading into the 2021 season with one of the wackiest musicals to have graced the Broadway stage, Sunnybank Theatre Group kicked off their year with a flourish!
Based on the 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John, ‘Xanadu’ tells the story of artist Sonny Malone (Matt Domingo). At a low point, he is graced by rollerblading, leg warmer-wearing, ocker-accented muse Clio (Liana Hanson), sent from Mount Olympus to inspire Sonny. Whilst the movie may have been a box office flop, the soundtrack of ’80s pop tunes thrived and was turned into a musical comedy that parodies many of the film’s absurdities and weak storyline.
Due to the lack of substance, the show is on the shorter side for a musical. It could easily have been contained to one act but was wisely cut into two, with a short and sweet second part that really picked up the pace.
Directing a show with such a thin plot brings an array of challenges; first and foremost being able to get the audience to care about the characters. While Sonny and Clio’s love story did not whisk the audience away to fair Verona, it did provide moments as adorable and hilarious as the script would allow.
Director Chris O’Leary and Assistant Director Andrew Cosier embellished every parodical aspect of the show to make standout moments. While the script was full of parodies and comical one-liners, a few pieces of dialogue could be seen to be in poor taste. Luckily, any discomfort was swiftly covered by the clever comic awareness of the actors, who played up the inappropriateness of the lines.
Leading lady Hanson was a perfect choice for Clio. Her sweet tone suited the pop songs and she was utterly adorable with her ocker accent as she earnestly tried to direct Sonny toward his creative future (which included setting up a roller disco). Not only did Hanson successfully perform the entire show on rollerblades, but she also handled the many mic difficulties with professionalism and kept the show anchored.
As artist Sonny, Domingo had all the stage presence needed for a leading man. He was endearing in his lovesick puppy pursuit of Clio and had masterful comic timing throughout. His effortless dance skill shone in musical numbers and he was a joy to watch.
Jane Rapley and Clare Patrick were suitably snarky as antagonists Melpomene and Calliope, respectively. They hatch a plan to cast a spell on Clio to make her fall in love with Sonny, which is a crime punishable by death for a muse. Their performance of “Evil Women” was a highlight of the show.
Jason Lawson had silky vocals as real estate mogul Danny and relished portraying both his comic and sweet, nostalgic moments.
Throughout the show, Clio reported back to a Greek chorus of her sisters (Josephine Stockdale, Bec Teese, Christopher Morphett-Wheatley and Brett Elsworthy) who watched over her time in the ’80s. For the most part, the chorus held synchronised choreography and tight harmonies. On occasion, more support was needed to maximise the impact of their vocals. Strong acting choices led to some of the sisters seeming more embellished and prominent than others, so more cohesion as a group on how far to commit to these choices was needed to streamline the chorus. Overall, they were a joyful and entertaining part of the show.
Rounding out the cast was the ensemble: Connie Acevedo, Roselie Chase, Venessa Kohl and Jacqui McKell. Unfortunately, this ensemble of four were rarely seen on stage and were hardly utilised for the few scenes they were in. Whilst the majority of the scenes centred around Clio and Sonny, it would have been nice to see the ensemble incorporated into more musical numbers – perhaps as extras in the Greek chorus or even to assist in some of the more awkward scene transitions.
Lynette Wockner’s choreography was simple but suited the show. A standout moment of choreography that broke the simplicity was Elsworthy’s stunning tap solo in the musical number “Whenever You’re Away From Me” as he portrayed the young Danny.
Costuming by Lesley Davis, Corinne Tease, Wockner and O’Leary was full of showstopping ’80s fashion. A particularly funny scene was a parade of mythological creatures on Mount Olympus. Most notably, Morphett-Wheatley as the centaur (herded by Mark Westby) had the audience in stitches.
‘Xanadu’ is very much the musical equivalent of a fever dream. There’s simultaneously very little to it but also so much chaos, and it can be difficult to comprehend… why. That being said, Sunnybank Theatre Group made the most of the poor plot and created a hilarious and nostalgic show filled with joyful and uplifting ’80s hits that you’ll be humming all day long now that you’re here in ‘Xanaduuuu’.
‘Xanadu’ casts a spell until Saturday, 27 February 2021. For more information about upcoming productions at Sunnybank Theatre Group visit their website.
Photography by Kaymar Kreations.