|'XIPPING OFF TO XANADU'
By Allison Steele - After Dark / August 1980
Olivia Newton-John, a bird in a paradise Coleridge never dreamed of.
Things haven't been the same in Xanadu since Kubla Khan broke ground on his "stately pleasure dome".
Or so Coleridge saw before his postman rang his doorbell and the opium-induced vision evaporated.
Coleridge is dead but Mr. Khan's villa is very much alive and living in Hollywood, where they have spent a
million dollars and three months to rig up a Deco-Modern musical movie set worthy of Busby Berkeley and
then some You'll see all of it in XANADU, opening August 8 with Olivia Newton-John playing on of the nine
Muses. She is courted by Gene Kelly, who plays a rich merchant wistful for the clarinet of his youth, and by
Michael Beck as a young New Wave let who sneers at Kelly's musical taste. Of such plot situations are the
airiest of castles made.
And how dose Olivia feel about this frothy to-do, with it's final 237 dancers, skating, juggling Xanadusuians?
"My stomach is in my mouth."
Our latter day Rita Hayworth seems a bit at sea under the storms of this megabuck musical, which Universal
Pictures hopes to outgross GREASE, the current musical movie champ. If Miss Newton-John isn't wonderful
in XANADU, Universal might lose something like the annual budget of Peru.
"You can do the best possible," she said on the set, "but it's not up to you. It's up to millions of other people
and influences....I'm just as nervous as anybody would be, though I've probably learned to hide it rather
Her high-tea "rather" is no Tenseltown affection, it's how people who were born in Cambridge, England and
brought up in Australia usually talk. Ever since her starring-guest days on BBC-TV series 'It's Cliff
Richards', she has piled up one recording award after another. Her successes as a pop singer led directly
from a Metropolitan Opera House concert to landing the part opposite of John Travolta in GREASE, her first
feature film. The soundtrack album fetched several "platinum" honors and left it's female star with a
problem: What to do next?
"I knew I wanted to do another musical after seeing the pleasure GREASE brought to so many people," she
said, "So this musical fantasy really appealed to me. I never though I get to sing and dance with Gene Kelly.
I had great fear and trepidation at the thought of dancing with him. But on the first day of rehearsals he put
me at ease completely."
For now, she honors the master-popper Mr. Richard as the most influencal man in her professional life, with
Travolta coming in a close second. Miss Newton-John sings a duet with Richard in XANADU. What is clear
about this star is that she needs close and durable friendships to suffer the heat of fame.
"I live a humble life on a four-acre ranch," she says and then falls over laughing at the absurdity of her
sentence. Her producer, John Farrar, is married to Pat Carrol, with whom she sang as a team early in her
career. And she is close to her sister and brother-in-law. "We stick together..." she says, cooking small
dinners and staying at arm's length from the Hollywood hangouts. This daughter of a collage dean takes
her career seriously.
Meanwhile, back on the gigantic set of XANADU, nothing but expensive frivolity is being taken seriously. The
movie boasts two choreographers, Kenny Ortega and Jerry Trent, both seasoned soldiers in the night club
extravaganza front. Ortega worked three years with The Tubes, a British New Wave group that appears in
XANADU. Trent comes from television, Broadway, movie and stage shows.
And as though two choreographers weren't enough, the movie has two composers as well-Jeff Lynne of the
Electric Light Orchestra and John Farrar, who produced most of Miss Newton-John's recordings.
XANADU has heaps of special optical effects, without which no modern movie would dare show it's face, and
the press kit from the film goes a little berserk describing John Corso's sets-"Fountains surround the
rotating platform below the stage....a curtain of mirrored panels rises and falls between numbers...the basic
colors used: burgundy and gray..." This hoopla dose not even touch one fantasy sequence shot in the
Fiorucci boutique on Rodeo Drive, a tribute muse of Shopping.
Credits grow curiouser upon revelation that Director Robert Greenwald's movies for television bear the
arresting titles 'Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress', 'Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold', and 'Flatbed Annie and
Sweetpie: Lady Drivers'. Further, Producer Lawrence Gordon's last effort was THE WARRIORS, a "sleeper"
about gang warfare in New York; co-producer Joe Silver was associate on that film. The romantic male in
XANADU, Michael Beck, was the star of WARRIORS.
Even so, Miss Newton-John was sold on XANADU the minute she heard the outline. Her convictions have
extended to canceling a big Japanese tour in protest over the government's fishing polices: "I'm concerned
and saddened by conditions in the world now, and I hope that seeing XANADU will provide pleasure and a
chance for people to get away from their problems. If only for a little while."
Michael Beck, From Arkansas to Xanadu
Young Michael Beck, Olivia Newton-John's romantic lead in XANADU, grew up on a small farm in Arkansas
and never dreamed he would co-star with her and the venerable Gene Kelly. He plays a dreamer who, in
Kelly's word's. "is always searching for something and who wants to build a place people can enjoy
Enter XANADU, touted by Universal Pictures as "the ultimate fantasy".
Says Beck, "This XANADU is my Xanadu. The dream I had in the nine years since I decided to act is really
coming true. I only hope I can carry on to the next dream now."
"The role I play (Sonny) is near to my real self in many ways. But my strength, I believe, is in playing fairly
intense dramatic roles." His first was Tybalt in a Millsap College version of 'Romeo And Juliet'.
Beck was the lead in THE WARRIORS, a gang-war feature that excited some attention when urban
audience began assaulting each other during the movie. He also appeared in the NBC-TV movie
'Holocaust' and 'Voyage of the Mayflower' with Anthony Hopkins.
Getting through those roles meant ditching his "Old Arkansanian" speech habits. The answer for Beck was
to live five years in London. "Ah yew's to tahlk kinda lak thayit", he said. "But the English are very articulate
people. Maybe some of their quality of speech rubbed off on me".
Years and miles away from Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas, Beck mused over his unexpected success: "I
believe every human being has a realizable dream. You may not want to admit, even to yourself, that you
have such a thing. But I should hope all people have something they can aspire to. The hang-up comes
when they stop short of trying to fulfill their realizable dream."