Review: Xanadu, Southwark Playhouse

We cannot deny Xanadu is a cult film, in a so-bad-it’s-good way. Career-ending for many, it was supposed to be the next Grease for Olivia Newton-John (and one of the final guest appearances of legend Gene Kelly on screen), but in turn it became one of the worst films of the decade, if not of all time. Its soundtrack, however, was a big hit, and the single ‘Xanadu’ became number one in several countries. The film was, without the swimming pool, the Showgirls of the 80s.

So, with just several hit songs and a terrible story to work with, why was it all made into a stage musical? Probably because the latter, unlike the film, does not take itself seriously. This re-imagined Xanadu is a crazy comedy, a supernatural rom-com with all the right ingredients to make everyone laugh and clap along. And that is no easy thing to do!

When muse Clio (Carly Anderson) decides to help mortal Sonny Malone (Samuel Edwards) so he can achieve his true artistic potential, she introduces herself as Australian Kira, and the rest is history. Wicked sisters, gods of the Olympus, a roller disco and a musician-turned-property-speculator ensure two hours of camp, glittery, carefree fun, centaur included. Several songs have been added to the original, and that is a complete master-stroke: including ‘Physical’, ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Have You Never Been Mellow’ in the show makes it even more enjoyable, with everyone singing along from beginning to end. Also, Alison Jiear and Lizzy Connolly as evil Melpomene and Calliope are just hilarious. Their rendition of ‘Evil Woman’ is one of the best moments in the show.

Compared to the Broadway production, and apart from the inclusion of ‘Physical’ to the score, this production feels better sung, while being as nuts as the original. Singing is great throughout – particularly Anderson’s and Jiear’s – and even though space is reduced, choreography is sleek and sparkly. Anderson’s portrayal of Kira/Clio is a mixture between genuine innocence and a side-splitting Olivia Newton-John parody, accent included. Edward’s Sonny is exceedingly naïve, charming and his energy is just contagious. The ensemble of – male and female, or isn’t? – muses is not only choreographically en pointe, but also flashy, camp and everything you would expect – and even more. Perhaps the best thing about Xanadu is its tireless energy, the feeling that everyone on stage is having a great time. This uncompromising fun is what makes the show so enjoyable.

Xanadu is not only “a place where nobody dared to go”, but the epitome of silly, feel-good fun, graced with timeless jukebox favourites (and denim shorts, Greek cloaks, leg warmers, roller-skates and Pegasus). Forget about cheesy pre-Christmas shows and roller-skate to the Southwark Playhouse now!

Xanadu is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 21 November. For more information and tickets see the Southwark Playhouse website.