Just in time for Valentine’s Day some enterprising street artist has posted reminders to all of us in the Montrose to love. Look for these signs scattered around the neighborhood next to the various exhortations to stop and yield.
Sonny Malone (Angel Velasco) isn’t the smartest guy in the room — and that’s probably true even when he’s visiting the monkey house at the zoo. He’s the prototypical himbo, the man who’s at his best when he’s just looking pretty and keeping his mouth closed. Girls used to get relegated to such status; now it’s the boys’ turn.
But Sonny does like to create art, and he sees it in chalk drawings on the sidewalk in Venice Beach as well as the opportunity to open a roller disco in 1980. (He doesn’t have much foresight: By 1981, disco — on wheels and not — was dead and would remain that way for 15 years.) That’s when Kira aka Clio (Misty Venters), head Muse (of the Olympus Muses), intervenes. Her job is to inspire humans to create, though she’s forbidden to let them know that’s what she’s there for or create anything herself.
That’s what counts as a plot in Xanadu, the very loose stage adaptation of the disastrous Olivia Newton-John film of 1980 better remembered for its soundtrack than for any recognizable dramatic energy. But playwright Douglas Carter Beane took the loose idea of the movie and molded it — and it was pretty moldy to begin with — into a snarky, ironic period comedy where cut-offs, head bands, knee socks and Converse high-tops are the peak of fashion.
The main problem with Xanadu is, paradoxically, also it’s chief selling-point: Beane’s script. It’s very inside baseball, with lots of kitschy in-jokes about Southern California and gay culture, that simultaneously elevate the humor and weigh it down.
“This is children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people,” one character cracks self-referentially, letting the audience know the actors are just as aware of how ridiculous, even inane, the whole undertaking is, but sallying forth nevertheless through a phalanx of puns and creaky one-liners. Beane dares you not to camp it up with him; you resist at your peril.
All of which makes Xanadu fun and completely frivolous. From the sassy black drag queens who are several of the Muse “sisters” to co-director and supporting player Andi Allen in cat-glasses and a Lucille Ball color-and-wave haircut circa Season 2 of Here’s Lucy, it’s a calculated send-up of Gen-X iconography told with enthusiastic silliness.
The jukebox score is a pastiche of disco-era radio hits like “Strange Magic” and “Evil Woman,” shoehorned together like the random shuffle on an iPod … if you like that kind of stuff — and it’s nearly impossible not to like it, considering how committed the cast is to the whole aesthetic. This is Velasco’s best stage work (he played Juan in Uptown Players’ Altar Boyz three years back), as he projects adorable stupidity and naïvete. (“Even my suicide notes are clichés!” he whines in a moment of despair.)
The rest of the cast is equally adept (it ain’t easy dancing on roller skates), and this is Level Grounds Arts’ most polished production since moving into the KD Studio Theatre. Gnarly, dude.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.