Review: Reinvented ‘Xanadu’ movie turkey a stage gem at Metropolis

Laughter punctuates musical filled with hit songs

Sophia Mae Brenner stars as a muse, Clio, in the musical "Xanadu" at the Metropolis.

Spoiler alert: if you need to laugh – a lot – see the current production of “Xanadu” at the Metropolis in Arlington Heights. It both satirizes and honors a turkey (the original 1980 film of the same name), it highlights all the songs you loved from the soundtrack, it has a ton of laugh lines, and it even features actors roller skating throughout the show.

You weren’t around in 1980? A brief history lesson. That summer, a new movie musical starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly hit theaters, the trailer promoting “Xanadu” as a place “where time stops and the music never ends.” The trailer was half right; the soundtrack – featuring “Suddenly,” “Magic,” “All Over the World,” “I’m Alive” and the title song, among others – was a double-platinum hit, with Newton-John’s frequent collaborator John Farrar writing half the songs, and Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) composing the others. The movie was a critical failure, though, nominated for multiple Golden Raspberry Awards (“Razzies”) in the first year those “worst” awards were handed out. Only in later years did the film develop a kind of cult following.

Over 25 years later, a stage musical with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Farrar and Lynne opened on Broadway. It was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Choreography, and ran for over 500 performances. How did that unexpected success happen?

Well, as you’ll see in the excellent Metropolis production directed by Kevin Wiczer, Beane kept the three main characters: amiable, easygoing, talented and dejected (“Mega-bummer!”) artist Sonny Malone (played by punchline-nailing-every-time Ty Schirmer); a beautiful Greek muse (Sophia Mae Brenner in her Metropolis debut) who seeks to inspire Sonny; and Danny Maguire (frequent actor/lawyer Tony Calzaretta, also making his first appearance on the Metropolis stage), a former big band clarinet player. Now a hard-nosed construction mogul, Danny gave up on his entertainment dreams years ago, dreams that were inspired by a female muse who looked a lot like Brenner’s character.

Beane, however, didn’t just copy the movie script. In the stage show, Clio (Brenner) has eight sister muses, receiving help from four, ably portrayed by J. Christian Hill, Kayla Joyner, Morgan Schoenecker and Kyle Patrick – all playing multiple additional roles such as the young Danny, sirens and centaur. Two others make up 40% of the wonderful on-stage orchestra, and the last two are Melpomene (Elenia Dokos) and Calliope (Joey Prette), our love-to-hate-them villains who – resentful of Clio’s status among the muses – decide to place a curse on Kira (Clio’s 1980 disguise in our world, complete with leg warmers, roller skates and an Australian accent) that she will fall in love with Sonny. Dokos and Prette are outstanding in their cackle-filled scheming.

Will Kira find herself in love with a mortal? Will she be sent to “eternal damnation in the netherworld” if she does? Will Sonny, a chalk artist, achieve his extremely unlikely dream: to open a successful roller disco in a dilapidated, never-used theater? (Yes, it’s the one that was at the center of Danny’s show biz dreams many years earlier, and it’s now due for the wrecking ball.)

Even if the answers to those questions are pretty obvious, the 94 minutes of this no-intermission show fly by with plenty of jokes; intentionally campy/hilarious acting; excellent dancing, including a bit of tap (kudos to choreographer Kristine Burdi); and well-sung vocals on even the lesser-known songs like “Dancin’,” which mashes up sweet Andrews Sisters melodies and hard rock. Even if you’re just coming to hear the music, under the direction of Kenny McMullen, you won’t be disappointed, as the 14 songs include an additional Newton-John hit (“Have You Never Been Mellow”) and more ELO music, too (“Evil Woman,” “Strange Magic”).

With seven disco balls hovering above the stage, and so much fun happening on the stage, you know what you have to do, or “du,” by Aug. 13 – come from “All Over the World” to see the “Magic” of “Xanadu.”

• Paul Lockwood is a singer, local theater actor, Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, theater reviewer, podcaster, columnist and past president of TownSquare Players. He’s lived in Woodstock for over 22 years.


WHAT: “Xanadu”

WHERE: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights

WHEN: Through Aug. 13

INFORMATION: 847-577-2121,