By Alice Kaderlan Special to The Herald
There’s an adage that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But that’s exactly what the creators of the musical “Xanadu” have done. They took a stinker of a 1980 movie and turned it into a Tony Award-nominated romp of a Broadway show.
The movie was so bad it’s become a cult classic as an over-the-top memento of the early ’80s. The musical production, on the other hand, has been a huge success during a two-year run on Broadway and on a national tour that stopped in Seattle in 2010.
“I compare it to ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ where they took a cult movie and turned it into a great musical” Village Theatre director David Ira Goldstein said. “Douglas Carter Beane found the essence of the disco era and with his collaborators transformed cinematic straw into Broadway gold.”
To do that, Beane and composer-lyricists Jeff Lynne and John Farrar retained the movie’s ELO/Olivia Newton-John hits (“Magic,” Xanadu,” “Have You Ever Been Mellow”) but added new songs and an actual plot with additional characters and situations.
The result is high camp that simultaneously makes fun of and celebrates disco, beach culture and the ’80s roller skating craze.
There’s no way to avoid the silliness of the Greek mythology-meets-roller disco story but with a zesty score and the Village’s candy-colored sets, costumes and lighting effects, it’s easy to suspend belief.
The ludicrous plot focuses on the demigoddess Clio, who comes down from Mount Olympus disguised as a roller-skating Aussie named Kira to help beach boy Sonny establish a disco.
Clio’s father, Zeus, has forbidden her and her sister muses to fall in love with mortals but of course that’s exactly what happens. For Sonny and Clio, it’s love at first sight and eventually Clio agrees to give up immortality so that she and Sonny can live happily ever after.
The knockout cast, headlined by real-life husband and wife Dane Stokinger (Sonny) and Jessica Skerritt (Clio/Kera), takes readily to the silly jokes and sight gags. There’s less roller skating than in the Broadway original but still plenty of fun bits on wheels, mostly for Stokinger and Skerritt.
Stokinger, who grew up playing ice hockey, took naturally to the skating, while Skerritt had to work a little harder. Skating rehearsals were held at Skate King in Bellevue, where choreographer Kathryn Van Meter staged some of the scenes.
Goldstein said there were some tense moments during rehearsals.
“Dane and Jessica are both 6 feet tall so as a director, I was always holding my breath, because if you fall from that height it’s dangerous,” he said.
Fortunately there were no mishaps and Goldstein says after a few days, all the actors embraced “their inner roller skaters.” For his part, Goldstein was able to indulge something that he doesn’t get to use often in his directing.
“I have a silly side that I like to indulge,” he said, “and this is a chance to do silliness on a grand scale with a sweet message.”
“Xanadu” runs from Oct. 25 to Nov. 17 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, with performances at various times from Wednesday through Sunday. A discussion will be held after the 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 9.
Tickets range from $25 to $60, online at www.villagetheatre.org/everett/Xanadu.php.