With all the negative press, critical onslaughts, neglect from the participants and many other people trying to erase their
memory from the clutches of it, Xanadu, for it’s many faults and flaws, still lives in the hearts, minds and fantasies of those who
are still attracted to the film’s basic utopian outlook. The possibilities, the fun, the mere notion of a beautiful muse to appear out
of the blue and another notion of not taking life too seriously-these qualities did not attract many to it’s heart, some even
seriously detest it.
In the gay community, the film’s utopian theme and, especially,
the theme song is taken to heart and has been a theme of some
parades. In Australia, a dance version of Xanadu was an
underground dance hit. It was performed by ‘Paula Featuring Olivia’
(though there’s NO Olivia anywhere); since then ‘Paula’ has made a
small career of singing Olivia tunes in gay bars in London. Another
version of Xanadu was done as part of a DJ dance compilation CD
called Direct Hits #15. Unlike Paula’s rather weak performance and
production, this new version not only used the actual original
recording but also snippets of dialogue and the final production and
chunks of Drum Dreams. All set to a rave drum machine.
Outside of the gay’s circles, Xanadu has maintained the same
level of appeal over the years. In LA, there was a dance club than
had a ‘Xanadu Night’ that featured music from the early eighties
(the current marketable nostalgia trend). They even go as far to use
the movie’s logo for their ads and interior.
For film buffs, especially those who are interested in bad and/or
campy titles, Xanadu has been compared to The Apple, Sgt.
Pepper and Can’t Stop The Music. It is also commonly noted that
Xanadu is “better” then these films-not excruciatingly bad like the
others...just boringly bad.
For whatever arguments over Xanadu are, whether more
serious questions of it’s existence on the surface of the Earth or
joking jabs at what was more wooden-a 2 x 4 or Michael Beck’s
acting, the film did managed to reach out with it’s basic premise of
utopia and hope despite it’s problems and attackers. The few who
where taken by it’s ‘magic’ when it was first released somehow
understood what the film was trying to achieve and had managed to
take it’s weakness with a grain of salt. These are the people who
managed to find the magic buried in the muck. Over the years, the
number of “Xanaduians” has steadily grown. The passage of time
has allowed for some to re-examine Xanadu more objectively;
some are reminded of their after taste and dispose if it, while others
end up liking it and are willing to cut it some slack. The bottom line?
For those who still have a hopeful heart (and stomach) for Xanadu
and it’s fantasy, music, style and it’s hoorky cornball happy ending,
the film still delivers it’s message of hope optimism and, for good
or ill, camp.
Sure, Xanadu’s successful cousin, Grease, is getting it’s rightful
recognition on it’s 25th anniversary by the mainstream press, but, to
the individuals who aren’t seriously infected by the retrospective
praise and hype, Xanadu dose have it’s own charms and stands
very well against it’s cousin’s large shadow.
The film’s reevaluation and resurgence can be traced as far back as 1985 and to a underground film starring Crispin
Glover called The Orkey Kid. In it, Glover’s character participates in a local talent contest by weirdly impersonating Olivia and
sings Magic. The history behind that film included an earlier version staring a unknown Sean Penn which was called Beaver II.
Many years later, Penn told an interviewer that if people wanted to get an idea of who he really was should see Beaver II, saying
“if people watched that thing they’d leave me alone in restaurants.” (#9)
This revaluation continued through another branch of the underground media; small press, or zines, where more writers
and artists have honestly expressed their interest in Xanadu in publications like Mommy & I Are One and Ben Is Dead. The next
stage of this evolution was the internet and that’s when the flood gates opened. In fact, this web site as a whole can be easily
viewed as an example unto itself-for better or worse.
Eventually, mainstream publications finally caught up and warmed up to Xanadu. An early example was a guilty pleasures
article in the March 10th, 2000 edition of Entertainment Weekly: “(U)nlike other early-80’s attempts to reinvigorate musical (like
Popeye), Xanadu actually has humible tunes (the title make for a killer karaoke) and a refreshing naive sincerity that can’t be
duplicated in this post-ironic age.”
The film even reached the level of nostalgic deconstruction in a segment on VH1’s ‘I Love The 80’s, the cable network’s on-
going nostalgic mini-series where celebrities and pop cultural wise guys and gals talk about and examine various artifacts of
the said era. Mini-series regular Mo Rocca remarked that the glowing muses were chemically radioactive and Gene Kelly was
“a roller skating pipe piper; like a cult leader, leading all these freaks in a giant adult skate.” While others, including Lea
Thompson, made rather strange remarks that you needed drugs to understand the movie, it was another mini-series regular
Michael Ian Black who summed it all up by calmly proclaiming: “Gimmie short shorts. Gimmie roller skates. Gimmie Xanadu. I’
m a happy man!”
During the 2000 Williamstown Theater Festival, stage director and Yale School of Drama graduate Annie Dorsen debuted
her stage adaptation of this film, billed as Xanadu Live! Even though Dorsen has a distinguished background of the theatre
and has been decorated with many fellowships and awards, this was the second time she took a “forgotten” piece of pop
culture on to the stage. She had done a similar job with ‘Grease 2’ just for fun. This time, ‘XL!’ was done as a dare from a friend.
Dorsen’s adaptation and direction for Xanadu meant a certain amount of adjustments had to be made like editing out
pieces (like the animated ‘Don’t Walk Away’ scene), the decision to have the cast to lip-sync rather than sing and a fabric design
of a fabric mural so the stage Sonny can skate right into without hurting himself. Giving the production a slight surreal quality,
the actors weren’t playing the characters, they were playing the original Xanadu actors playing the characters. Billings such as
“Cheryl Lynn Bowers as Olivia Newton-John as Kira” were the norm here. Even the muses had a more active role in this version
as stage hands changing props between scenes.
|ABOVE: Crispin Glover as Olivia Newton-Dawn and
CLOSER a page from the Xanadu article from Mommy
And I Are One.
Cheryl Lynn Bowers
Cheryl Lynn Bowers as
co-producer, Amy Pietz
When asked about the motivation behind the original production, Annie Dorsen told the Advocate that the movie represented
a very brief but interesting transitional time between the fall of disco (70’s) and the arrival of Reagan and AIDS (80’s).
‘Xanadu Live!’ was planned to be a one-time performance, and it would have stayed that way if it weren’t for a couple of
audience members, actress Amy Pietz (who’s résumé included ‘Caroline In The City’ and ‘Rodney’) and her husband and fellow
actor Kenneth Alan Williams.
The performance on that night went down very well. “I really had one of the best audience experiences in theatre that I ever
had,” Amy said of that night’s performance to Broadway to Vegas.com, “It was so joyful. It was the antithesis of New York and
Los Angeles theatre in that it took itself seriously – not.”
Being a small fan of both Olivia and Xanadu as well a desire to be producers, they brought the script, it’s director and the original
‘ONJ/Kira’ actress (Cheryl Lynn Bowers) to the 99-seat Glascon Theater in Culver City, CA for a scheduled one month run.
After setting up a small office in Burbank and a web site, the group, now known as XL! Productions, announced a casting call
for dancers for the XL! west coast bow in Casting West magazine. This small ad got a huge response, and not just from
perspective dancers. Some fans got wind of the production and began to wildly circulate the ad through various Xanadu-related
web sites (The Xanadu Preservation Society and Only Olivia being the major ones). One fan even made plans for an unofficial
“We received e-mails from fans all over the
world,” added Amy. ‘There are people in San
Francisco, D. C., and Vegas who want to produce
this show. It dose have a huge following, although
the following is underground. And, those
underground fans are waving to surface. They are
very happy that we are giving them the opportunity
Also planned was that this production would
also serve as a fundraiser for The American
Cancer Society (Olivia is a breast cancer survivor)
and Broadway Cares. There was also a matter of
who had rights over the script for public
performance. Thanks to the records from the
Writers Guild Of America, they managed track
down and contact Marc Ruble. He gave the XL!
folks his permission provided that his name
wouldn’t be used for the stage production credits
though his name can be found in the show’s
The location and the one month schedule of Oct. 11 to Nov. 11 2001 was then announced through a small ad in the LA Weekly
and to the surprise to many, the tickets were going out fast as the word of mouth.
Soon after opening night, the reviews came in. In their review, Variety singled out the actors for praise; Bowers performance “gets
the angelic look, Australian accent and happy emptiness just right”, Dustin James’ turn as Beck/Sonny is credited as a “excellent
comic turn, dippy and corny and laced with ideal timing” and Kenneth Alan Williams’ Kelly/Maguire “keeps his chin forever angled
upward, his teeth forever gleaming and his toes forever aching to twinkle.”
Speaking of aching, the only negative comment the review mentioned (outside of spending the first paragraph disassembling the
original movie), was the size of the theatre and its stage, “There are moments when the show really wants to takes off into it’s own
world – but it doesn’t have the room.” But that didn’t get in everybody else’s way from enjoying the whole production.
Backstage.com’s favorable review began with, “ …audience looking
for a reason, any reason, to listen to the entire Xanadu soundtrack with
like minded loonies, who also have an appreciation for a ironic loopy
comedy, might just have found, in Xanadu Live!, the show they’ve been
waiting for all their tortured dysfunctional lives.” L. A. Weekly called the
show “delightfully joyous and innocuous camp” and the production
staff “brings a crisp professionalism to the proceedings.”
Fans, of course, where overjoyed. Posting reviews on related
internet sites, mainly gathered in the XL! fan site by Simonie Hodges,
began in earnest. Obviously without the objectivity that critics are
known and paid for, the reviews were all great and the whole
engagement more or less turned into a month long party and not just
for the fans either.
Reportedly, celebrities like Lea Thompson and RuPaul showed up
for a performance. However, what really turned some heads was many
members of the original movie production crew and dancers actually
showed up and enjoyed the show, most notably, Ruble. However, the
major names, mainly Olivia Newton-John, were absent. As for the fans,
most showed up far more than once, some came weekly and a
smaller select brave few showed up everyday! One of them was
rewarded by tending the theatre’s small Xanadu-styled retro bar/lobby
and watched the remaining shows for free.
the stage for Xanadu Live!
The poster for XL!
XL! version of Sonny, Kira and Danny.