By Max Johnson
At wits end, down on his luck street artist Sonny Malone needs divine intervention to get past his totally harsh creative standstill. Luckily for him, that’s just what he’s going to get! The leader of the nine muses, Clio, has taken it upon herself to inspire Sonny to create the apex of all artistic achievement in the 1980s: A roller skating disco. With an enchanting combination of squealing guitars, mirror balls, and Greek choruses, George Mason High School presents the satirical musical comedy, “Xanadu.”
While originally flopping in the box office, the 1980 cult classic film “Xanadu” starring Olivia Newton John had a commercially successful soundtrack, featuring songs by Newton John herself and Electric Light Orchestra. The 2007 musical openly poked fun at its predecessor’s cinematic failure, while also parodying the overdramatic romances and musical styles present in 1980s pop culture. As a surprise hit of the season, “Xanadu” racked up several Tony nominations and won the Drama Desk award for Outstanding Book in a Musical. The plot follows Clio, who disguises herself as the Australian leg warmer and roller skate touting Kira, as she attempts to inspire Sonny to buy the abandoned theatre in downtown Los Angeles, aptly named The Xanadu. However, when her jealous sisters Calliope and Melpemone cast a curse on her to become enamored with Sonny, Clio is susceptible to break one of Zeus’s most serious laws for a Muse, which is punishable by damnation: Never fall in love with a mortal.
As the muse of histories turned Aussie skater Kira, Sophie DeLeo deftly managed this difficult role. DeLeo was able to balance challenging vocal parts and comedic bits all while gracefully gliding across the stage on roller skates. Playing her opposite, Rand Walter shone as Sonny Malone with his vocal talent, rocking eighties pop ballads and effortlessly controlled falsetto riffs. Alex Warren, who played the stuffy owner of the Xanadu auditorium, portrayed his character’s older age skillfully, which only added to his moments of hilarity and compelling character arc.
The supporting ensemble of muses kept the energy high with their individualized characters and commitment to the shows outrageous style. The two antagonistic muses, Melpemone and Calliope, played by Kiki Skotte and Lilly Constance, made their roles amusing through their thorough application of caricature. Wielding hideous cackles, exaggerated sneaky walks, and overdramatic vocal performances, Skotte and Constance provided uproarious comedic relief even as they cruelly plotted Clio’s demise. With his hilarious walk-on role, Vijay Menon’s performance as Hermes was marked by his sudden switch from a prophet of doom to the effeminate, sassy messenger god.
The orchestra did a superlative job at handling the eighties score with talented instrumentalists. As a true Xanadu rock band, the orchestra pulled off difficult guitar solos and complex rhythms in a professional manner. The sets consisted of several well painted periactoids and other rolling pieces, which made each location clear as they were rotated from scene to scene. Handling a large amount of wireless and handheld microphones, the sound crew managed balancing the music and amplifying this large cast with minimal errors. The lighting was reminiscent of the bright neon glow present in the eighties, augmenting the show’s cheesy, effervescent tone.
In a musical drawing inspiration from big hair and ancient mythology, George Mason High School’s production of “Xanadu” was an experience, as Clio herself would say, “you have to believe is magic.”
Max Johnson is a student at McLean High School and a member of Cappies, the Critics and Awards Program for High School Theatre and Journalism.