‘Xanadu’ at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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There’s some strange magic transforming the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre into a 1980’s roller-disco! Why it’s Xanadu! The romantic musical fantasy, inspired by the 80’s movie of the same name, takes musical comedy to new heights. Directed by Melissa Huston with Musical Direction by Ken Kimble this magical journey will keep you in stitches as it pokes fun at the movie that inspired it to life upon the stage while bringing a romantic couple together despite all the odds.

Working in tandem with Director Melissa Huston, Set Designer Matt Mitchell creates the perfect atmosphere for the events of the 80’s to unfold. The stairs that descend from the Greek mural as well as the skate ramp are painted in a muted egg-yolk yellow with spongy square splotches in teal, lavender, spring green and lime. The columns that flank the stage are of a similar pattern with various shades of pinks and purples making them look almost like a glossy mosaic. You’ll be back in the era of leg-warmers and roller skates with just one look at this set.

Kira (Carol Anne Drescher) and Sonny Malone (Jeffrey Walter). Courtesy of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Costume Designer Sarah Kendrick has a touch of muse in her with the inspiration she provides to their flowing Goddess gowns. Each of the muses appears in a different gauzy dress, an assortment of bright colors to represent things like art and dance. And Kendrick provides unique costuming for The Sirens with their large black fan-style capes and feathery faces, and ultimately decks out the Gods of Olympus with so much gold lamé  that you might just go blind if you stare it too long.

The true muse of dance is found in Choreographer Felicity Stiverson. Her particular brand of choreography can be described as nothing short of athletic, having a polished flare similar to cheerleaders in a fierce competition. Stiverson creates large group routines that become a workout of funky jazzy upbeat dances steps with a lot of arm waving, air punching and step kicking for the muses in numbers such as “I’m Alive” and “All Over The World.”

Young Danny (David Wojciehowski) showcases Stiverson’s more complex routine adding in aerial flips and acrobatics as he dances across  the entire stage during a flashback scene. And an all out tug-of-war style dance off erupts between The Andrew Sisters (Cristina Shunk, and Erin MacDonald) and the 80’s Rockers (Michael Windsor and Wojciehowski) with Danny (Bob Brewer) leading the 40’s style movers and shakers and Sonny (Jeffrey Walter) rocking with the others in “Dancin’.” The song is sure to get you up on your feet and dancin’ around.

The tragic downfall of this Greek comedy is the sound. Already challenge by the great outdoors the ensemble and many of its solo performances fail to project loud enough to be heard at times. Loud group numbers like “I’m Alive” end up having high energy movement with muted sound, an unfortunate mismatch. In addition there were technical sound malfunctions as several of the microphones cut out completely at times. This impacted Bob Brewer’s character of Danny McGuire the most which was a real shame because virtually none of his lines or songs were heard.

Two of the sister muses, however, being the muse of tragedy and epic stories, were able to overcome the troubles of sound with their powerful pipes. The evil Melpomene (Jenifer Grundy Hollett) and her sister-sidekick Calliope (Lauren Wither-Hansen) blow the audience away with their witchypoo cackling and diabolical plan to destroy Kira. Hollett belts like a queen diva with the sheer thunder of Zeus himself when singing “Evil Woman” her signature song with Wither-Hansen providing comic back-up tunes. The pair again gives great vocal explosions in “Strange Magic” with crazy physical gestures to support their sordid plans.

Sonny Malone (Jeffrey Walter) plays a powerful young kid with artistic vision and limited worldly knowledge. Walter provides a stunning voice for the character giving real emotions in each of the songs he sings. He leads an empowered moment of gospel-tent revival style music with the muses as his chorus in “Don’t Walk Away” and packs a punch into this song with his pure emotional devotion to Kira. Walter has the perfect of moment of the broken-hearted Prince Charming, standing there at the end of the song holding Kira’s lone skate as the show head into intermission. And he holds a strong fight with the muses during “The Fall” where his desperate emotional goodbye challenges the muses’ doubt of love.

Walter has brilliant chemistry with the innocent and flirty Kira (Carol Anne Drescher.) They share beautifully moving duets in numbers like “Suspended in Time,” “Whenever You’re Away From Me,” and “Suddenly” with the latter erring on the side of comic advances between the two. Drescher provides a fun and flirty aspect to the character that makes her scenes with Walter that much more engaging as she battles the temptation of falling in love with a mortal.

As the muse Clio, Drescher adapts beautifully to her guise as the Australian mortal Kira. Her phony accent is flawless in it mimicry of Olivia Newton John’s voice from the film, and there are bits and pieces of her songs that import her accent to a point of noticeable comedy. Her voice is pure and sweet but is not to be trifled with in songs of pure emotion. “Fool” gets her angry side pumping in true girl-power fashion as she lays into Walter’s character over his doubt. And her finale performance in the title song is nothing short of blissful animation.

So if you’ve ever been mellow, created art or fallen in love, it’s time to come find your Xanadu and be happy that you found at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre before it eclipses away into the wispy clouds of Olympus at summer’s end.

Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.

Xanadu plays Thursdays through Sunday evenings until September 2, 2012 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, located in the heart of Annapolis harbor – 143 Compromise Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, please call the box office at (410) 268-9212, or purchase them online.