Anthony J. Piccione
The 1980s. When people look back on that decade, they tend to remember many things. Mostly, what they remember is a bunch of cheesy but catchy pop music. For some who are old enough to remember it, they might choose not to remember such music. For other people, it might be a guilty pleasure. For many others, just pure pleasure. No matter which of those three categories you fall into – or if you are not even old enough to remember the 80s – I can guarantee that the show Xanadu is bound to be a lively and entertaining theatrical experience. Based on the 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John, this musical adaptation – filled with tons of songs from that era – proves to be a surprisingly joyful experience for all audiences.
As the third and final show in their 2015 Nutmeg Summer Series, Connecticut Repertory Theatre did not disappoint when they brought to life this fun-filled musical this weekend. Under the direction of Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal, this production proves to be a great way to close out the summer at CRT. Cardinal’s directorial vision for the show is executed to perfection, with a highly-talented cast that is blocked and choreographed wonderfully, and set designs and special effects that prove to be what makes the show as visually stunning of a spectacle as it is. The fact that all of the choreography in this show is performed with the actors wearing skates in these settings only serve to make an already spectacular production even more impressive.
The show begins with a young man named Sonny – played by Luke Hamilton – coming out to talk directly to the audience with plenty of laugh-lines that get the crowd warmed up for a show that has no shortage of them from beginning to end. During these 90 minutes, Hamilton’s portrayal of the role proves to be equally comedic and enduring through the remainder of the production. In the show, Sonny meets a young Australian girl named Kira – played by Amandina Altomare – and later discovers that she is really a muse from Mount Olympus named Clio in disguise. Altomare’s vocal performance in this production proves to be one of the many aspects of the show that make it a success. The story of the show largely revolves around the forbidden romance between Sonny and Clio, and overcoming the obstacles that prevent a muse from falling in love with a mere mortal.
Playing the role of businessman Danny Maguire is Broadway veteran Dirk Lumbard, known for his roles in shows such as The Music Man and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. His performance in the role proves to be both humorous and poignant at certain points in the show, with the musical number “Whenever You’re Away From Me” standing out in the show. Two other major highlights in the show that keep the audience laughing hard are the performances of Ariana Shore in the dual roles of Melpomene and Medusa and Steve Hayes in the dual roles of Calliope and Aphrodite, with the musical number “Evil Woman” standing out as one of the best in the production. The rest of the cast is rounded out by an equally talented ensemble of muses, including Jayne Ng and Johnny Brantley III who each respectively stand out at various points in the show with incredible stage presence.
As talented as all the performers were, perhaps the biggest highlights of the show were the technical aspects of the show. The set designs are very bright and colorful in the best possible way, and are complimented by stunning projections that make the show a visually superb experience for the audience. Another aspect that adds to the excellence of the show’s visuals is the usage of fog and lighting that prove to be some of the best special effects to be used in the show. Finally, with all the highly-catchy music included in this show, credit should be given to the musicians involved in the production that helped make music such a great part of this show. All of these various elements of the show play a huge role in making this production as entertaining as it is.
All in all, Xanadu is a fun-filled spectacle with plenty of joy and laughs to go around for the audience. Connecticut Repertory Theatre does an excellent job at bringing this highly-amusing show to life, and for making it as high-quality of an experience as one could expect, if not more so. This was very clear on Friday night, as audiences left the theater feeling largely satisfied and entertained. If possible, be sure to get a chance to catch this event during the summer. This last show in CRT’s Nutmeg Summer Series is not to be missed.
Xanadu runs at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre from July 9th-19th. For more information, please visit www.crt.uconn.edu.