Take a scoop of campy humor, a scoop of Greek Mythology, and a scoop of singing power and you will have the delicious and satisfying current production of Xanadu as performed and sung by the enthusiastic and talented Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC. This production, under the astute Direction and Choreography of Craig Cipollini and the Artistic Direction of Jeff Buhrman, goes down as easily as a triple-scoop ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day – even though we are, indeed, in the midst of some cold weather in the DC metro region!
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC(GMC) has steadily been providing engaging fare of all types at various venues and this current production of XANADU – which was a recent hit production on on Broadway with Cheyenne Jackson – is no exception!
Based on the somewhat bizarre, poorly conceived and received Universal Pictures film starring Olivia Newton-John, this is perfect fodder for the GMC as there are campy, trashy, and spoofy moments galore to savor. The combination of some talented principals,supporting players, acting ensemble, superb choreography, 3-piece back-up orchestra, and the vocal power of the GMC is hard to resist.There are plenty of opportunities available in this source material (immeasurably helped by the Book for the stage version by Douglas Carter Beane) for this energy-driven group of players to “let go” and provide some zany entertainment for addicts of this sort of campy,light and specialized material. Certainly, a story of a Greek Muse descending to earth and inspiring an attractive young man to open a roller -rink disco lends itself to some innovative reworking.
The GMC takes advantage of most of these opportunities and it is obvious that they are all working hard to deliver this campy and somewhat strange hybrid of a show to the audience. They are most effective in the large group musical numbers such as “I’m Alive”, “Dancin”, “All Over the World” and the title song, “Xanadu.” The tone is infectious and upbeat with no small thanks to the frothy, fun and bouncy choreography of Cipollini. The music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar are upbeat and light as a feather and this troupe seems to be having a grand time singing them. (This show made me think of the light and upbeat music of ABBA for the also-campy stage production Mamma Mia).
Kip Jacobs as Sonny Malone – the young man with roller disco dreams – is a knockout in all aspects. Jacobs sings like a dream, has the requisite air of callow eagerness and nonchalance, and a very commanding physical presence that is never forced – his body posture, with hands and arms almost always extended in mid-air as if in a state of suspended animation – is someone to anticipate in any future production. Jacobs seemed to be winking at the audience as he performed with an almost uncanny understanding of how to play this type of airy, almost nebulous material. Ryan Williams (Melpomene) and Stuart Goldstone (Calliope) are standouts in the supporting cast and are especially effective when performing the hilarious “Evil Woman.”
The costume design by Tessa Low and Tony Prestridge is aptly flashy and colorful with plenty of silver, gold, and reds to catch the eye. The set design by A.J. Guban is creative, innovative, and appropriately cheesy when needed as befits this type of campy material. Particular mention should be made of the constantly changing rear projections that added so much to this production.
The only reservation I have about this pleasurable production is the performance of Cory Claussen as Clio/Kira. Indeed, Claussen made a valiant effort and had a few engaging moments but, too often, he appeared tentative and ill-at-ease in his role with many of his lines hard to decipher. Vocally, he had a difficult time in his higher range, especially in the songs “Magic” and “Suddenly,” a duet with Jacobs. Larry Poole did a fine job as Danny Maguire, and sang well during “Whenever You’re Away From Me,’ sung with Claussen and Timothy Morton, who played a Young Danny.
The homoerotic appeal of this show was strengthened by having males play all of the woman’s parts and this aspect certainly added to the appeal of the show for those devout devotees of all things drag. Double-entendres flew by throughout the show as a result of this aspect.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC should be commended for tackling this ambitious production with their usual professionalism and zeal. Do no miss this sensational and zany Xanadu
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s XANADU is playing at Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University – 730 21 St., NW, in Washington DC – Tonight – Friday, March 15th at 8 pm;Saturday, March 16th at 8 pm; and Sunday, March 17th at 3 pm (ASL interpreted). Purchase tickets here.
Director Craig Cipollini on The Gay Men’s Chorus’ ‘XANADU’ Playing this Weekend at Lisner by Joel Markowitz