“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree,” read the opening lines of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” The poem has inspired generations of poetry lovers and romantics, including the title of a 1980 musical film. The film in turn inspired the well-received 2007 Broadway musical, in which Clio, muse and daughter of Zeus, descends from Mt. Olympus. Disguising herself and changing her name to Kira, her mission is to inspire the failing artist Sonny Malone. She eventually falls in love with him, risking the anger of Zeus, the king of the gods.
George C. Marshall High School Statesmen Theatre Company in Falls Church is currently staging the Broadway version of the show…and a spectacular show it is. Elements from classical antiquity are blended with 1980s elements, including disco, leg warmers, and roller skates. The Marshall student cast embraces the time period’s charm with skating cast members (coached by Sadie Brewer), manifold saturated colors worn by the “offspring of Zeus,” and 1980s clothing provided by nine costume designers—not unlike the Nine Muses of classical antiquity! Eighties musical hits are performed well, including the title song “Xanadu” by Sophia Welch, who gleefully essays the role of Clio/Kira. She and co-star Dale DeVinney (Sonny) also compellingly perform the duet “Suddenly.” Another stand out number is a cover of original “Xanadu” star Olivia Newton John’s 1975 hit, “Have You Never Been Mellow?”, sung by an unusual assortment of characters: Kira, Zeus, Hera, Thetis, Aphrodite, Cyclops, Medusa, and a Centaur!
While firmly ensconced in the early 1980s, the show also contains numerous fond references to American culture of the 1940s. (Indeed, the show’s plot is based in part on a 1947 Rita Hayworth film “Down to Earth.”) This George Marshall production follows this retro aspect of “Xanadu” with vintage-style Broadway tap dancing by Daniel Petry and Kate Butterworth in “Whenever You’re Away from Me.” Conducted by Tiffany Powell, the live band’s transition from 1980s to 1940s musical styles is outstanding, with an unexpected scat singing interlude by Sophia Welch (Kira). In another 1940s-inspired moment, Kayla Awad, Laelia Kavalier, and again Sophia Welch sing as a trio in the style of the Andrews Sisters in “Dancin’.”
The show includes significant self-aware irony, having fun with its interpretation of the 1980s; the period is presented with elements of nostalgia, while also recognizing points of 1980s excess. At the same time, we feel that the musical also has cultural merit due to its incorporation of elements of classical mythology and culture, cast in modern form. References to ancient Greek literary traditions include the Greek chorus. The Muses even introduce themselves and their functions in classical mythology at the beginning. These literary references, along with welcome quotes from Coleridge, are all welcome parts of a solid education.
Most of all, the production is wonderfully entertaining. Director Bernie DeLeo was inspired to stage the production after observing that the show is both fabulous and hilarious. In this vein, he states that “rehearsals have been joyous and filled with laughs!” This joyousness makes the show a delight to attend.
“Xanadu” runs from May 4-6, 2023, produced by the George C. Marshall High School Statesmen Theatre. For further information, please visit: www.statesmentheatre.org.