The Weber State University Department of Performing Arts started off their second show of the semester, Xanadu, in the black-box Eccles Theater, on Nov. 5. The musical is a parodic version of the movie Xanadu that came out in 1980, and is generally regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.
“It’s this crazy mixture of ’80s and mythology,” said Jim Christian, the director of Xanadu. “It’s just an opportunity for the audience to come and laugh and just revel in some nostalgic 1980s music.”
To explain the exaggerated elements of the show, Christian described it “as though Zeus came down in the form of a roller-disco DJ and had an affair with Cindy Lauper and this show was born.” The show features famous songs like “Strange Magic,” “Evil Woman” and “Have You Never Been Mellow?”
Xanadu is about Sonny Malone, a struggling artist in 1980, who has a quick brush with suicide out of frustration with his artistic work. He is then saved when he meets his “muse,” an Australian roller-skater named Kira. Kira is eventually revealed as Clio, a Greek demigoddess of inspiration.
Christian chose Xanadu after 10 minutes of a Broadway performance of the musical. WSU’s production of Xanadu will also be the premier performance of the show in Utah.
Sean Bishop, who plays Sonny in the WSU production, said the show was “the most fun” he’d ever had on stage, and that he enjoyed the sense of community he gained with the cast and crew, who all had to master roller-skating for the show. Besides roller-skating, Bishop said the show’s biggest challenge was interpreting the humor of the show to an audience that might have never seen the original.
“As an actor, it’s hard to land this style of comedy,” Bishop said, “because it’s based on a really bad movie and a lot of the jokes are inside jokes for those that have seen the movie. Keeping things honest and funny at the same is difficult, but also rewarding.”
The audience seemed to respond well to the humor in the show.
“It makes fun of so many different things,” said Becca Robison, a WSU student who attended the show.
A lot of the humor in Xanadu can be attributed to the visual exaggeration of the costumes. Tyler Banks, the student costume designer for Xanadu, described the costume design process as starting with a basic Greek form and then “attacking the outfits with glitter, sequins and glitz.”
“Xanadu really pushed my design aesthetic,” Banks said, “because I normally design things that are darker and moodier. I had never really imagined designing something all in pastels and glitter.”
The show featured a live instrumental ensemble led by student music director J.D. Dumas and composed primarily of WSU students.
“The best thing about a live band is that it adds exciting vibrancy and energy to the show that a track doesn’t,” Dumas said.
The music style also challenged the cast and musicians because of the complex rhythyms that Dumas said ’80s music has.
Kelsie Slaugh, a musical theater major who attended the show, responded to it well from the performance level.
“The nice thing about the show is everyone loved what they were doing,” Slaugh said. “It’s all a story, and everyone, audience members, directors, designers, actors, etc., are part of the story.”
Xanadu is performed in the Eccles Theater in the Browning Center, and because of smaller seating availability in the black-box theater, the show will be running a nontraditional “third week, ” Nov. 8-12 and also the 15-19. Tickets are $8 for studentsand $11 for others. The shows begin at 7:30 p.m., and all matinees are at 2 p.m. on Nov. 5, 12 and 19.
“Xanadu is a metaphor for your own personal heaven or nirvana, so I think the big thing in the show is about achieving your dreams,” Bishop said.