Revisiting Xanadu

There can’t be many things camper than a musical set in the ‘80s performed on roller skates and featuring a storyline about a daughter of Zeus who comes to earth and then falls in love with painter who wants to open a nightclub, all set to a pop music soundtrack.

When the film Xanadu came out in 1980 it was hoped that it would mimic the success of Olivia Newton-John’s previous film Grease, but it turned out to be an enormously massive flop. In 2007 the film became the inspiration for a Broadway musical which will be performed this month by musical theatre students at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. OUTinPerth spoke to director Crispin Taylor.

When did you first see Xanadu?

I suppose in about 1980, I would have been about Year 10, I’m not really sure. I do remember going to drama camp and performing one of the numbers.

I saw in the drive-in, when it was a new release.

It’s pretty bad, but the soundtrack was a huge hit, I’m not sure if I owned it but I definitely know all the songs from it. The songs are quite good but the film was appalling.

We took our third year students across to Broadway a few years ago, and it was on Broadway and we saw it there, by surprise really, because a student saw it and said ‘You’ve got to see this, it’s not like the film, it’s a lot of fun.’ It’s a tongue in cheek spoof of the film and also it spoofs Clash of the Titans which was around the same time with Laurence Olivier and Harry Hamlin. It ran on Broadway for three or four years, quite a long time.

The book is terrific it won awards and was nominated for a Tony, but didn’t win it. It’s a very funny show, from the outset it’s not a deep and meaningful show it makes a lot of fun of the unlikely and improbable premise of the show.

Does it feature roller skates?

Interestingly we forethought this, so at the end of last year we brought in eighteen pairs of identical roller skates and gave them to the kids, and they’ve had them over the Christmas holidays and they’ve been roller skating madly. We had some lessons from the Rollerdrome in Morley. Kira the lead is on roller skates the whole time, and for the big finale everyone has them.

It’s an interesting musical score because it’s unusually it’s written by two different composers, like the soundtrack album was.

John Farrar was very associated with Olivia Newton-John and I was a big fan of Jeff Lynne and ELO. There’s certainly a modern history of pop music being included in musicals with Mama Mia and U2 and Spiderman, but this predates that. Some of the songs are iconic like Xanadu, but other songs we’ve become very find of, originally we thought they were a bit twee, but we’ve been drawn back into the ‘80s.

Xanadu is on at The Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WA Academy of Performing Arts from March 17 – 24

Written by Graeme Watson

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