Sunday, August 19, 2012

Xanadu: When Talent Just About Overcomes Material

     When we saw that Alan Patrick Kenny was back in town directing a show at The Carnegie produced by Joshua Steele, we knew we’d have to see it because there was neither a more exciting director in Cincinnati in the past six years nor a more ambitious arts producer. Kenny and Steele started New Stage Collective as a summer project in college and presented a lovely Side Show (I believe it’s the only
production in this region of that under-rated show) and a solid Sunday in the Park with George.  Steele took a chance with The Carnegie in Covington (it was in the process of restoration and needed to be rebuilt physically, philosophically, and financially) while Kenny found a space in Over-the-Rhine and produced two and a half seasons of productions that were legendary.  There wasn’t another theatre in the region that was as successful artistically, but they couldn’t survive financially.

The Muse Cast of Xanadu*
Alan Patrick Kenny
     Kenny went to graduate school, completed his course work early, and is back with his thesis production of Xanadu before beginning a tenure track position in Wisconsin.  (Oh, those lucky undergraduates, if they only knew.  Did no university go after him here?  Whatever.  He’s hoping to direct in Chicago as well and my fingers are crossed that his career takes off).  Xanadu was reworked from a flop 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie and there’s also been some witty, self-referential additional writing for this production.
The songs are well known, written by Jeff Lynne of ELO and John Farrar, songwriter and producer for Newton-John.  We’re back in the days of disco and the point of the show is creating a roller disco from scratch, and believing that this is one of the most significant creative endeavors possible in 1980.  

     Kenny chose this because he wanted to find and realize a core of truth in it and he succeeds.  He cast three strong actors in the leads.  Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys is back from New York for this show and she is charming and completely believable as Kira, the Principal Muse from Mt. Olympus out to save Sonny Malone (Blaine Krauss, a CCM student) and to both reconnect with Danny Maguire (Rick Kramer) from her 1940s past and convince him to fund the roller disco.  Jeffreys 
Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys
anchors the show and her connection with Kenny adds a further layer.  She gave a definitive performance as Petra in his production of A Little Night Music at Know.  

     Missy Lay Zimmer’s choreography is sprightly in some numbers and elegant in the 1945 flashback, but the scene when the chorus cleans up the dilapidated building where the disco is planned looks like something out of Waiting for Guffman i.e. a sincere, but misinformed, amateur community theatre production.  Ryan Howell’s scene design is evocative and works well within the parameters of the neo-classical jewel box that is the Otto Budig Theatre at The Carnegie.  The lighting is good and kudos to the follow spot operators, who anticipated and never missed keeping the actors in the sweet spot.  The problem was the sound design/operation.  There was feedback on a couple of the actors’ mics and I couldn’t understand why the levels couldn’t be immediately adjusted.  Honestly, I don’t think body mics were necessary.  The acoustics are excellent in that space and the singers were strong.

*Photo by Mikki Schaffner

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