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Theater Review: 'Xanadu' at Issaquah's Village Theatre

Published on: December 30, 2013

xanadu-1983It started out as a laudable mother-daughter bonding experience: My friend Julie and I would take our daughters Quinn (a roller skating enthusiast) and Melanie (a Greek mythology buff) to see the '80s musical Xanadu, playing at the Village Theatre in Issaquah. Together we would laugh about Big Hair, spandex and kitschy pop music. The girls would have a newfound appreciation and understanding of the young women their mothers had been and would find common ground with the young women they were becoming.

The night of the performance came at the end of a long week and a stressful day which, for me, involved three hours of driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic and a scant dinner, wolfed down in the car. Needless to say, I was in no mood to see any play, much less a frothy one set in the 1980s, not my favorite decade for music or for fashion.

The striking view of the full moon rising above I-90 should have clued me in to the Strange Magic that awaited us.

Xanadu, the Musical, is the brainchild of playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who transformed a bad movie that had achieved cult status, into an infectiously silly show that pokes fun at the 80s, but also celebrates that decade's over-the-top fun ethos.

I don't actually remember much about the 1980 movie, which starred Olivia Newton- John and, improbably, Gene Kelly. The play adds a loose plot and some new characters to the story, along with additional songs by Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). From the first bars of the song "Magic," I was transported, whether I wanted to be or not.

I glanced at Quinn and Melanie, who remained stony-faced, as Julie and I loosened up and began swaying to the familiar music. "You listened to that?" hissed Melanie, as stellar supporting cast members Lisa Estridge and Christine Riipi bumped and ground their way through "Evil Woman."

But, even for the teens, resistance proved futile.

xanadu-18681Leads Jessica Skerritt, in the Olivia Newton-John role and Dane Stokinger, playing the romantic male lead originated by Michael Beck (what ever happened to him?), did a fine job with the material they had to work with, but the show belonged to the talented, versatile and very funny supporting cast. When Richard Peacock, as Hermes, surprised the audience by turning sassy, even Melanie gave herself over to the pleasures of Xanadu. Every moment Estridge and Riipi were onstage was a delight. The rest of the cast took every opportunity to demonstrate how much they were enjoying themselves, culminating in a nonsensical Greek mythology-inspired ensemble piece that made me laugh till I cried.

As for the mother-daughter bonding, unfortunately, that was as unattainable as the mythical Xanadu. Quinn magnanimously admitted she enjoyed seeing her mother enjoy herself so thoroughly. Melanie was gobsmacked. "What did I just watch?" she wondered.  I told her many of us had the same reaction, after living through the '80s.

My recommendation: leave the kids at home and go see Xanadu with a group of fun-loving adults, who will understand all of the inside jokes and '80s references, feel nostalgic over the music and enjoy the utter goofiness of this production.

Leg warmers optional.

If you go...

Where and when: Xanadu is playing at Issaquah's Francis J. Gaudette Village Theatre through Oct. 20. It will be performed in Everett from Oct. 25-Nov. 17.

Tickets: $30-$61. Buy online. Also, check out this opportunity to get half-price Friday night rush tickets by dressing in '80s fashions.

Parental guidelines: Younger kids may enjoy some of the sillier aspects of the show, but much of the "wink-wink" dialogue will be lost on them. (Here is the production preview guide, if you'd like specifics.)

Alison Krupnick is ParentMap's education editor.

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