|XANADU: UPDATING OF ‘DOWN TO
Review by Kevin Thomas
August 11, 1980 Los Angeles Times
There was every reason to suspect that ‘Xanadu’ (selected theatres) would prove to be a ‘Xana-don’t’
when the much-ballyhooed $17 million musical opened Friday without benefit of press previews.
To be sure, it’s no ‘Singing In The Rain’ but by golly is dose have that classic’s vibrant and charming star
Gene Kelly and is a perfectly acceptable summer cooler that’s been smoothly directed by Robert
Greenwald in his theatrical feature début.
It’s sort of updating of ‘Down To Earth’, which starred Rita Hayworth as Terpsichore, the muse of dance
who materializes as a Broadway chorine. This time Terpsichore is Olivia Newton-John, and she comes
down to earth to provide the spark of inspiration for a nightclub called Xanadu to be opened (at the old
Pacific Auditorium) by Kelly, a one-time big-band era clarinetist, and Michael Beck, a daydreaming young
album cover artist. To Kelly, Newton-john is the reincarnation of a band singer he once loved, but he
leaves the romance to Beck, who provokes in the goddess an all-tool human response.
So much for the plot, which is but a pretext for a batch of musical numbers anyway. What Xanadu’s
makers seemed to have in mind was the melding of Glenn Miller nostalgia and contemporary rock, at one
point represented by The Tubes. The mix succeeds, but Jeff Lynne and John Farrar’s words and music
are more serviceably pleasant and lively than hummably memorable.
Gene Kelly is such a joy. Writers Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel allow him to be himself
and be his age. Therefore, being comfortable he can cut loose with a display of easy agility and timeless
grace. There’s a lovely fantasy duet with Newton-John and later on a roller disco number that ha Kelly
leading the pack. Would that Newton-John and Beck, who are pleasant and attractive but awfully bland,
had some of Kelly’s style and personality.
Martin Scorsese liked to describe ‘New York, New York” as a film noir musical, but either by accident or
design ‘Xanadu’ (MPAA-rated PG) is quite literally that, a movie so dark that at times it’s actually hard to
see what’s going on, which is at odds with the film’s otherwise tonic effect and which dims the
considerable contributions of production designer Bobbie Mannix and choreographers Kenny Ortega and
Jerry Trent. The principle victim, however, is Newton-John, who at times is made to look about 40.
© Los Angeles Times