A Sneak Peek at Broadway's Upcoming Xanadu Musical

By Robert Viagas
10 May 2007

From Top: Kerry Butler; Douglas Carter Beane and Christopher Ashley; Tony Roberts; Kerry Butler and James Carpinello; Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman; Kerry Butler and company.
From Top: Kerry Butler; Douglas Carter Beane and Christopher Ashley; Tony Roberts; Kerry Butler and James Carpinello; Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman; Kerry Butler and company.
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The cast and creators of the upcoming Broadway musical Xanadu raised the curtain a few inches May 9, inviting members of the theatrical press to New 42nd Street Dance Studio to watch a rehearsal of four numbers from the show, which is based on the disco-era film that flopped spectacularly in 1980 while its soundtrack recording went double-platinum.

Unsurprisingly, then, director Christopher Ashley said the Broadway production keeps the score, which is mainly by Jeff Lynne of the rock band Electric Light Orchestra, along with John Farrar (who wrote songs for leading lady Olivia Newton-John, whose role is now played by Kerry Butler). That score, which is coming to Broadway with new arrangements by Eric Stern, includes "I'm Alive," "Magic," "Suddenly" and "Dancin'" and will be supplemented by the interpolation of two classic ELO songs, "Strange Magic" and "Evil Woman" (the latter as a duet for villainesses Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman), plus Farrar's "Have You Never been Mellow?"

The uber-campy new libretto comes from playwright Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed, As Bees in Honey Drown), who said he is keeping the basic premise, but completely rewriting everything else. "I was at a meeting with a Hollywood producer and he said, 'What's the story of Xanadu again?' And I said, 'A Greek muse comes down from Olympus to inspire an artist to open a roller disco.' And he said, 'Well, at that point, you're either in or you're out.'"

Beane is definitely in. He said he loved the film since it opened when he was in college, and he believes he has figured out a way to make it work as a stage musical, by embracing both its Greek myth background and its camp. "It's got a great premise and an amazing story...and a really cool vibe. It's a shame the dialogue isn't particularly interesting, but that's where I come in."



Beane said that despite the extra story, the show will feature extensive roller skating that will spill out into the house.

Just like Starlight Express?, Beane was asked. "Yes," he joked, "minus the depth. That's what we're going for!"

Beane said he's aware that there is extensive skepticism about the project along Broadway. His response to the snarking: "I like the fact that it's captured people's imagination — and people's lack of imagination. Most people love the score — and the rest is something that can be fixed. I'm well aware that there are many eyes rolling on Shubert Alley about this project, and that's what makes it so exciting. I can go off and do huge passages of Greek mythology and make references to Midas and Sisyphus, and no one will expect it to be there."

The Broadway production stars Kerry Butler in the role created by Olivia Newton-John and Tony Roberts in the role originally done by Gene Kelly. James Carpinello is featured as the male love interest, Sonny.

Leading lady Kerry Butler said, "It's very different from the film. [Beane] took the best moments from the movie and added in a whole new plot, really. It's much more Greek. We're really goddesses. We speak in a kind of Shakespearean language," with contemporary phraseology thrown in for anachronism. Butler said, "I'll say things like, 'Huzzah to you, my sisters! There's an artist who needs our inspiration!' And when they respond to me, I reply, 'Word!'"

Of Beane, she said, "He knows that people love the movie, so he added in a lot of references to the movie. People who know the movie will say, 'Oh my God, they're doing that little thing they did in the movie!'"

Considering the magnitude of the production, one would think it would play one of Broadway's biggest palaces, but instead is going into the Helen Hayes, Broadway's smallest theatre. Why the Hayes? "It's a tiny, tiny little theatre," Beane said, "which is what I wanted it to be. You could have a set that goes out into the audience, where it's so intimate that the audience can be right there. And it's about people who come in and fix up a theatre, which recently occurred at the Hayes."

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Xanadu is scheduled to begin previews May 23 at the Helen Hayes Theatre with an official opening June 26.