XANADU SpeakEasy's production of this meta-theatrical, self-reflexive mix of vaudeville, schmaltz,
and grandeur is both preposterous and funny, obvious and precise.
Those who know their Coleridge will recall that: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately roller-dome decree." Anyway, fans of the 1980 stinker film that starred Olivia Newton-John may remember it that way. Of course, neither the film nor the ebulliently camp 2007 Broadway musical being given its Boston premiere by SpeakEasy Stage Company (at the Calderwood Pavilion through June 9) is about love in the age of Coleridge. The movie is about love on skates. The stage piece resembles Mamma Mia! in that it's built on an infectious pop score (Newton-John hits plus Electric Light Orchestra). But instead of inventing a cheesy plot, it makes fun of the one already in place! Librettist Douglas Carter Beane has a lot of fun with the film, both fingering it as evidence of the death of art and meshing it with the 1981 Clash of the Titans. And whether waving your glow stick or hooting at the muses, so will you.
In Beane's meta-theatrical, self-reflexive mix of vaudeville, schmaltz, and grandeur, Clio, Greek muse of history, bursts (along with her sister muses) from a sidewalk mural in Venice, CA. Her disguise: roller skates, pink leg warmers, and an Australian accent. But she falls in love with the street artist she's trying to inspire — an Olympian no-no — and gets in some hot water with Zeus. She also conjures pangs of regret in a bandleader-turned-businessman on whom she tried the inspiration bit in the 1940s. In Beane's hands, it's not just preposterous but also funny — and in SpeakEasy's three-quarter-round rendition, the wink is both obvious and precise.
Paul Daigneault helms a cast that adds to the triple threat of acting, singing, and dancing a fourth intimidation of roller-skating (McCaela Donovan, as the foxy Clio, might give Dorothy Hamill a run for her money). Shana Dirik and Kathy St. George, as "evil-woman" sister muses relaxing in the audience with popcorn and soda when not perpetrating their nefarious schemes, are a Mutt-and-Jeff riot. And David Connolly's choreography — an ingenious mix of Greek chorus and disco — might be the star of the show.
If you grew up on Sesame Street, being spoon-fed a mantra that everyone is special, only to graduate from college to the School of Hard Knocks, then Avenue Q (at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through June 24) is the street where you live. And despite the grubby ambience, it's a delightful address, where sweet candor and anxiety about the future are filtered through upbeat ditties, life lessons, and a steam of puppet sex so hot it would make Elmo blush. But then, who could tell?
Of course, Avenue Q's appeal extends beyond 20-somethings living on hope and handouts from their parents. It won 2004 Tony Awards for best musical, book, and score, and ran on Broadway for six years. But for that appeal to last beyond the genius concept (courtesy of composer/lyricists Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx) and the first 10 minutes, the show must be performed with considerable skill. Though three of its characters are people (including building superintendent Gary Coleman, down on his luck since Diff'rent Strokes), the rest require singer-actors in perfect synch with the earnest (and Ernie-esque) felt-and-fur folks they animate. Frankly, I was fearful a local troupe couldn't pull it off. But Spiro Veloudos's production, if a bit rambunctious, is also credible, hilarious, and soulful, its biggest charmer Erica Spyres as winsome if hirsute Kate Monster, and a Mae West of a Muppet named Lucy the Slut.