Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« 2012 Rogue's Gallery Nominations | Main | The Do-Over »


Leave your restraint at the door. Excesses are rampant in Xanadu (book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar), the recent smash musical based on the 1980 film of the same name. The Michigan premiere at Meadow Brook Theatre presents a dizzying camp calliope, in which director Travis W. Walter couples controlled artistic proficiency with shamelessly fun comic entertainment.

Hearkening back to a 30-year-old source whose story deigns to borrow from ancient mythology, the past-upon-past framework makes the production feel doubly dated, in a good way. In 1980s Venice Beach, California, pedestrian artist and unfortunate cutoff shorts aficionado Sonny (David Havasi) draws a mural straight out of his dreams and summons seven muses of Greek mythology to inject the creative spirit into the modern age. Praise is due costume designer Liz Moore for conjuring divine togs through the visage of 80s fashion, in its monstrously garish synthetic ruffled wonder. Similarly, Kristen Gribbin’s scenic design draws on a classical aesthetic, offering a semicircle of Greek amphitheater seating right onstage for viewers who want to be part of the action, but with a concerted dappled faux-finish feel. In concert with Reid G. Johnson’s carefully portioned go-for-broke disco lighting, the design gives equal credence to classical and long-since-“modern,” engendering a hokey fondness that stays at the forefront of the production.

Nobody is more aware of the plot’s flimsy foundation than the show’s creators, who make fodder of story holes as readily as any other detail. Clio (Allison Hunt), the leader of the muses, goes undercover as an Olivia Newton-John–type mortal to help Sonny realize his ultimate artist’s dream and open a roller disco. Securing the perfect venue for this embarrassing-sounding commercial enterprise with the shelf life of a wet donut involves a stuffed-shirt developer (Paul Hopper) who just barely remembers what it was like to be a dreamer himself. Yes, this is actually what passes for narrative tension, and it opens a wide avenue for overblown importance and winking ridicule. Havasi is studiously dedicated to Sonny’s impressively dense oblivion, whereas Hunt revels in Clio’s terrible disguise and inflection while undercover as the Aussie Keeeee-ra, and Hopper’s bygone wistfulness and charming spark of recognition make him a paper tiger of an obstacle. More lucrative antagonism comes in the manufactured form of jealous muse-underlings who conspire to strip Clio of her status, and you couldn’t hope to meet a pair of more gleefully devious plotters than Jennifer George and Lisa Lauren Smith. The proceedings are steeped in low comedy, meta references, cross-dressing (done with finesse by coarsely effete Joseph Feldmann and Eric Gutman), lingo so old it sounds positively dusty, and rug-pulling reversals, all skillfully executed with a conscious blend of camp and commitment.

The viewer would be forgiven for thinking these sound like the emptiest of comic calories, and this is before mentioning the music and dancing. A passel of familiar songs, loosely tied in to the story, are given a funky thump by music director Daniel Feyer that overpowers Mike Duncan’s sound design. Choreography by Marcus R. White soars in wonderfully skilled and silly group numbers, especially in light of the cramped onstage real estate and the limited movement that comes with being strapped into roller skates. The superfluous numbers are nevertheless infused with enthusiasm and a winning sense of cheer; there’s a prevailing feeling that this show must be great fun to put on, and it’s catching.

From pure ye-gods-what-is-happening? madness to the abrupt I-guess-we’re-done-here ending, the finished product is a feather-light satire whose commitment to silly fun puts the enjoyment factor through the roof. It takes a lot of ludicrousness deployed in a specific way for something to be so bad that it’s good — this Xanadu has it, and then some. Backed by tight construction and underlying aptitude, such bubbly comic overload is poised to satisfy ready-made fans, but also to win over the most hardened viewer in spite of himself.

Xanadu is no longer playing.
For the latest from Meadow Brook Theatre, click here.