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Weathervane skates into fall season with ‘Xanadu’

9/12/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Rachel Balko and Scott Miesse star in Weathervane Playhouse’s production of “Xanadu.”
Photo courtesy of Weathervane Playhouse
MERRIMAN VALLEY — Get your roller skates and leg warmers and return to the glory days that were the 1980s.

Watch out, “Xanadu” is back. This campy, silly musical started life as a movie with Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly in leading roles. Later the show ran for more than a year on Broadway, and now Akron gets a chance to reminisce about the 1980s in the Weathervane Playhouse production.

The production runs about 90 minutes, with no intermission. I must admit I’ve never seen the movie. So, the “Xanadu” story was almost fresh for me. Almost? The story does have familiar echoes. A common Earth man falls for a lovely young woman, who is a goddess, a muse. Yes, she hangs out with Zeus and the other mythological folks on Mt. Olympus.

The story deals with Sonny (Scott Miesse), who hangs out (note a lot of characters in this play “hang out” at various places) at Venice Beach, Calif. He’s young, good looking, physically fit and has no sense of where he wants to go in life. He meets Kira (Rachel Balko), who is beautiful, physically fit and skates. That’s it — love at first roll. Now, he has a purpose — he wants to open a disco skating rink. The story is set in 1980, so a disco skating rink might have economic possibilities.

Danny (Thomas Baumgardner) owns the building Sonny wants to use as the disco-skating rink. Kira only has to smile at Danny, and he remembers a woman who looked just like Kira. He should have married her, but. … This is a romantic comedy.

Unfortunately, Kira falls in love with Sonny. Back on Mt. Olympus, Zeus and some of the other divine creatures don’t think it’s a wise idea for someone from their neighborhood to fall in love below the clouds. But, love wins out and the obvious happens.

Scenic designer Alan Scott Ferrall created a Venice Beach with arena seating for the muses and a few Earthlings. Ferrall and volunteers provided enough room for the skating action and the large cast.

Costume designer Jasen Smith created clothing appropriate for the muses and the Earthlings. All of the costumes are stage-worthy — that is they flow with the performers as they dance, skate and play the show. Smith created gowns for the muses, business suits for landowners and, of course, cut-offs for Sonny.

Director Gwen Arment and the cast paid homage to Newton-John, who played Kira in the movie. At one point, a dancer brings an electric fan on stage, directs the fan at Kira, and her hair blows in the wind to remind us of the publicity photograph used for the movie “Xanadu.” At the end of the play, Sonny brings to the stage a black leather jacket for Kira to wear (think of “Grease”).

What we have is a talented cast and a lackluster script. The music is left over from the 1980s and the plot lacks substance. Baumgardner has a beautiful voice and took the stage with his solo turns. This is his first performance at Weathervane. I hope he returns for other shows.

Miesse makes falling in love and redecorating a warehouse as a disco skating rink in one day seem plausible.

Unfortunately, Balko loses many of her lines when she attempts the Australian accent. The director should work with her and solve this problem.

Patrick Dukeman played Calliope and Aphrodite and once again taught us what good acting can be. He played the lead in “The Drowsy Chaperone” last season.

Brett Parr played a variety of god-like characters from Olympus. This man deserves a leading role in a big, splashy musical comedy. What he needs now is a break-out role.

On opening night, the cast warmed up to the production and improved as the minutes skated by.

“Xanadu” is a crowd pleaser, especially with the younger crowd, who had not been born when the movie opened.

“Xanadu” plays through Sept. 22. For tickets, call 330-836-2626.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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