by Lance Wahlert, The Johns Hopkins
Newsletter - 4/2/98
Last week, Grease was re-released in movie theaters through- out the country. The film that sold millions of
albums and reinforced the popularity of its two main stars, Olivia New ton-John and John Travolta, remains one
of the most successful and popular film musicals ever.
But it cannot compete with Newton-John's best and most outrageous musical: Xanadu.
Directed by Robert Greenwald, Xanadu is the story of a down on his luck painter (Michael Beck) who longs to
escape from his dull job of recreating album covers for billboards.
One day, he encounters a blonde beauty on rollerskates (Newton-John). She kisses him and skates away.
Later, that same girl mysteriously appears on an album cover he is supposed to paint.
What he doesn't know is that this beauty on wheels is really a Muse named Kyra who is also a daughter of
Zeus. She and her dozen sisters were part of a mural on a wall in California, when they came magically to life to
inspire modern artists. Kyra and the painter fall in love, though, breaking the number one rule for Muses:
"Inspire the artist, then get the hell out of there!"
Gene Kelly also stars in Xanadu. It's a long cry from Singing in the Rain, but Kelly is a trooper. He plays a
retired bandleader from the 1940s who, inspired by Kyra, decides to open a music hall called Xanadu. There
the swinging cool of the big band era meets the Solid Gold-style rock of the 1980s. The song "Dancin'" is a
tribute to this synthesis of musical styles.
Surprisingly, the beauty of the movie does not reside in its plot. Instead, Xanadu's catchy and fun music
illuminates the dancing, skating, strobe lighting mystery of the film.
A musical at heart, the film is complete with a wide array of song and dance numbers. Most of them are created
in such a way as to highlight the talents of Newton-John, who can sing, dance and act her way through
anything. Country rodeo cowgirl; World War II big band chanteuse; leopard-clad, rock-and-roll tart -
Newton-John has got it all in Xanadu. If you thought her transformation at the end of Grease was impressive,
you ain't seen nothing.
"Magic" is a classic from the soundtrack. Etherial and synthetic in that 80s mode, it's a song that screams
Also, who can resist Newton-John's vocal stylings on the fantastic "Suddenly"? The way that she harmonizes so
beautifully with Cliff Richard; the way that she makes this ballad feel like it belongs on rollerskates; the way she
says "I'll take care that no illusions... shatter." Oh, Olivia.
She is certainly the star of the film, but the songs by Electric Light Orchestra that appear on the score are the
backbone of the film.
Chief among these is "I'm Alive." If you've seen Xanadu, no doubt you have a hard time erasing that beautiful
image of air-brushed Muses emerging from a graffiti-clad wall. What a sight! Of course, it is the combination of
Olivia and Electric Light Orchestra that produces the musical's title track and best song...
A place, where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu
And now, open your eyes and see
What we have made is real
We are in Xanadu
A million lights are dancing
And there you are, a shooting star
An everlasting world and you're here
As a part of the film's finale, "Xanadu" is performed in the music hall of the same name. A series of outrageous
performances precede this song, during which Olivia dances and rollerskates. When the last refrain of the
chorus arrives, though, Olivia appears in shimmery gold. Her sister Muses dance around her.
But she simply walks on to Xanadu's main stage singing.
After all that foot-stomping, intricate choreography on wheels and dance numbers in spandex, Olivia merely
It's an awe-inspiring moment that comes after an hour of flashiness and kitsch. What glamour! What style! What
The scene takes you right to Xanadu.