The company, brought here by Performing Arts Chicago, cut its run to two shows from four because of the tumult of this past week and the production had little chance to gain the larger audiences it deserves; but those who did see it were treated to a highly imaginative presentation of what director Marianne Weems calls a mix of "media presence with live presence."
Buffalo Bill, producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and dancer Loie Fuller are some of the past show business icons whose work is saluted, but the dominant spirit of the show is the 1930s-40s movie choreographer/director Busby Berkeley, whose "42nd Street" provides a kind of through line for the evening.
Quotes from the movie are everywhere, but not in simple film clips. Instead, using the latest camera technology, actors, their bodies endlessly duplicated or highlighted, perform kaleidoscopic dance numbers; and, with movie magic, the live actors appear to be blending into film bits from a 1930s dance musical.
Despite its high-tech efficiency, "Xtravaganza" retains the old "let's put on a show and knock their socks off" spirit displayed by the best of small, adventurous theater companies. The actors sing, dance and hit their marks with gusto, moving from a mesmerizing Loie Fuller-type scarf dance to a hilarious sequence in which the torso of a live actor unites with a screen covering the lower half of his body, on which is projected the fast-moving legs and feet of a terrific tap dancer.
There were a few very minor technical glitches in Friday night's performance, but, considering the intricacies of coordination needed for the successful blending of film and live performance, this witty, remarkable show proceeded with dispatch and panache.