'Xanadu': Toby's signs up for summer camp
Heather Marie Beck leads the roller disco conga line in the Baltimore premiere of "Xanadu," now on stage at Toby's Dinner Theatre. (Kirstine Christiansen / June 29, 2011)
The movie's plot about an ancient Greek muse inspiring a modern American painter was so stupid that not even chart-topping Olivia Newton-John and the venerable Gene Kelly could save it. Although the movie bombed, it developed a cult following that must have encompassed, oh, at least a few dozen people nationwide. On the bright side, the movie's memorable songs did get a lot of radio play in the early '80s.
Wisdom is not a word typically deployed when discussing "Xanadu," but the theatrical adaptation by Douglas Carter Beane made the smart conceptual choice of treating the whole show as a joke. The muse-meets-mortal story is basically intact, but it's treated as a campy excuse to sing those peppy songs and send up pop cultural subjects including the failed movie itself.
How can you not laugh at a narrative that has the ancient Greek muses checking out a circa 1980 roller disco in southern California?
Although some of the period-specific jokes might fly by those born after those disco days, nobody could possibly fail to follow the inane story. The muse Clio takes an interest in a Venice, Calif., artist, Sonny Malone, who is doing a chalk mural depicting the ancient Greek muses.
When Clio takes human form, she also takes the name Kira. Now an energetic Australian blonde zipping around on roller skates, she's seemingly just a Venice Beach gal curious about the mural he's doing.
Sonny aspires to resurrecting a derelict old theater, whose owner, Danny Maguire, is a jaded real estate developer who hasn't felt inspired by anything since the 1940s. Before you can say (or sing) "Strange Magic," it turns out that there are inspirational links established between Kira, Sonny and Danny. Various muses and gods also get pulled into the goofy equation.
This lightweight show is anchored at Toby's by Heather Marie Beck as the perpetually perky Kira and Greg Twomey as, yes, the perpetually perky Sonny. These two characters make such a wholesome odd couple it is impossible not to smile at them. It's especially amusing when Kira loses a skate and blithely skates along as best she can until Sonny shows up with that missing skate in his hand.
Not to get overly mushy about it, but these two performers are so well cast that they make Kira and Sonny seem like a real couple trying to work out some admittedly unusual issues. The two actors' voices blend just as agreeably in such songs as "Magic" and "Suddenly."
David Bosley-Reynolds brings a suggestion of dramatic gravity to his role as Danny Maguire. After all, Danny was unlucky in love back in the '40s and somehow all of his real estate deals in the decades since haven't made him a happy man.
Kira, Danny and Young Danny (Jimmy Biernatowski) vocally address that wistful biography in "Whenever You're Away From Me." It's a clunky subplot, but they do a nice job with that musical number.
Portraying muses, a pantheon of other gods and even the Andrews Sisters, the busy supporting cast includes Tierra Strickland, Maria Egler, Chris Rudy, Katie Heidebreder, Crystal Freeman and David Gregory. They're accompanied by a band that's reliable, though rather colorless.
Director Daniel McDonald maintains a slick pace that's essential for a show that would falter if it slowed down long enough to give you time to think about what you're watching.
The show sometimes literally glides by on roller skates. If there's a minor disappointment in the staging, it's that it easily could accommodate even more skating. There is no point in being restrained when you're at a roller disco.
"Xanadu" runs through Aug. 28 at Toby's Baltimore Dinner Theatre, at 5625 O'Donnell St. in Baltimore. Reservations are required. Call 410-649-1660, or go to http://www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.