Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thursday Night in Park Slope: Piper Theatre presents "Xanadu" outdoors at the Old Stone House in Washington Park

Tonight we sat out back of the Old Stone House in Park Slope for the opening night of Piper Theatre's majestically silly, irresistible ball of fluff of a musical, Xanadu, which recreates the 2007 Broadway reworking/sendup of the laughably abysmal 1980 roller-disco-of-the-gods movie starring Olivia Newton-John.
As one of the over-the-top characters exclaims, "This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people!” -- a pretty good match for the large and enthusiastic Park Slope audience sitting on blankets in the renovated Washington Park.
(This being Park Slope, there were lots of kids, from well-behaved babies and toddlers through the teens and tweens, many of whom are part of Piper Theatre's summer program for young actors. We're pretty sure the play's references to things like Brut, To Live and Die in L.A., and Parker Stevenson (where is he now?) went two stories over their heads.)
In its twelfth season of productions -- it's been at Old Stone House since 2005 -- Piper Theatre made an offbeat but wise choice in selecting this campy, self-parodying delight, directed with dynamism by Piper Theatre founder/artistic director John P. McEneny, with choreography by Karen Curlee and musical direction by Megan Jonynas.
This Equity showcase production featured a fun-loving, energetic, and musically talented cast who look good in ancient Greek attire, gym shorts and knee socks, or : Alissa Laderer (Kira), Jamie Roach (Sonny Malone), M.X. Soto (Danny McGuire/Zeus), Kelly Blaze (Calliope/Aphrodite), MaryAnne Piccolo (Melpomene/Medusa), Jake Mendes (Talia), Ricky Dain Jones (Terpischore), Matthew McGloin (Hermes/Dance Captain),
Jennifer Somers Kipley (Euterpe/Thetis), Linnea Larsdotter (Erato/Hera),
Emily Bodkin (Thalia), and Arielle Vullo (Urania).
Sarah Edkins’ scenery design recreates the Venice Beach of the late ’70s, paying homage to the street art and visual style emblematic to that place and time, a West Coast counterpart to New York City’s more famous underground art scene, only with more pastels.
We also loved the appearance of the winged horse Pegasus in act two; he proved a lot funnier than Joey in War Horse.
There was also a wonderful band who played the show's bouncy music expertly.
We were a bit skeptical about Xanadu at first, but the show is so winningly self-deprecating, so filled with irreverence and charm, with plenty of tasty 70s and 80s musical numbers,
so it didn't take long to win us over. It's quite a delightful production, and it made us forget all about the heat and humidity.
We were very impressed by the choreography of the muses and the deftness with which cast members Alissa Laderer (Kira) and Jamie Roach (Sonny Malone) were able to move around on roller skates. They had a good deal of chemistry and also sang with a lot of verve.
The songs, reminiscent of the disco era, are quite nice, though for us the highlight was the comic duo of MaryAnne Piccolo (the funniest cast member, reminiscent of great comic musical actors, as the acid-tongues Melpomene) and her sister in intrigue, Kelly Blaze (as Calliope) singing "Evil Woman."
“I’m Alive,” “Suddenly” and “All Over the World,” three hits from the original soundtrack by John Farrar, the song-writing powerhouse behind Newton-John, and ELO’s Jeff Lynne, also were lively.
The charm and fun of this wonderful show should have you bopping and lip-synching and enjoying a mythical (in more than one sense of the word) excursion into the not-so-halcyon days of the disco era (we can tell you that we had a lot of fun, but Park Slope in 1980 was a lot less bouncy than Xanadu's reimagining of Venice Beach (itself not as much fun back then, either).
We're really grateful we got to see Xanadu and advise you to get to the Old Stone House to see it while it's still playing.

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