Southwark Playhouse, London – until 21 November 2015
Southwark Playhouse’s recreation of Xanadu is a fabulous, over-the-top, well-staged entertaining evening. Everybody leaves smiling and the enthusiasm is genuinely deserved.
Problem is, it’s a great staging of a frankly terrible musical. It’s an appallingly bad book salvaged only by a tongue-in-cheek makeover by Douglas Carter Beane, the lyrics are inaudible thanks to Southwark’s consonant-swallowing sound system, and the music is cheesy 80s pop from Olivia Newton-John‘s back catalogue. BUT it’s done with such calculated irreverence that it actually works whether you’ve seen the movie and can mouth the words along with the cast or, like me, are happily not infected with the ONJ virus.
And the lead boy has thighs all of the women and half the men in the audience would gladly have worn as ear muffs all winter long.
Book, music and lyrics aside, it deserves praise for all nine individual performances: its a work of great quality to shrink a big Broadway show to the Southwark Playhouse and people it with a cast of only 9, and this is both efficiently done by director Paul Warwick Griffin, and charming in the way its limitations are acknowledged and used for further amusement of the audience.
Everybody’s good and it could be a breakthrough show for both leads: Samuel Edwards, he of the thighs, who was Richard Fleeshman’s understudy in Ghost and has been Fiyero on the recent Wicked tour, and Carly Anderson who understudied Scarlett Strallen in Candide at the Menier. Edwards plays goofy dopey charm to perfection with an irresistibly crooked smile, half Joey from Friends, half Joey Essex.
Plot – don’t push me here for details: it’s a confection wherein a Venice Beach DJ meets an ancient Greek Muse and together they open a roller disco. You don’t need more than that, it’s just an excuse for 80’s hair and bubblegum pop. Two of the muses are less nice than the others, and provide undeniably the best fun: Alison Jiear is the den mother and leads the way with a Dolly Parton wig, powerful lungs and crisp comic timing, but she’s at least matched by her scheming sidekick Lizzy Connolly. Connolly has that rare combination of good looks, kooky expression and spot-on comic timing that could remind you of a young Lucille Ball or a better Debra Messing, she is definitely the star turn.
Southwark’s increasingly known for smart choreography but Nathan M. Wright makes the most of the space with imaginative, inventive and athletic routines with unusual props like a pair of sweeping brushes and an office chair, a telephone box, or half a horse.
Everyone’s on roller skates at the end, and the audience is on its feet. Rollicking good fun.
update 11/11/15: due to cast illness, some performances have been rescheduled. Check www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk for details.
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