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Review of Xanadu at Southwark Playhouse, London

So with alert level set to pink and at camp factor ten, I ventured to the Southwark Playhouse for Xanadu. Originally produced on Broadway in 2007 it is perhaps surprising that a musical featuring the music of British born Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) alongside John Farrar has taken so long to get to the stage in the UK. However those eight years have been worth the wait as this production for such a small London venue is of devastating quality, with a cast and crew at the top of their game and surely destined for the West End.

The film itself starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly is a rather average musical fantasy blessed  with a quality soundtrack. Therefore for the stage version it was perhaps wise to make this an outrageous comedy and send up (the many) flaws of the original film. Constantly poking fun at the film and indeed itself, this is one of the funniest stage productions I have had the pleasure to see. The reoccurring theme of Kira (Carly Anderson) having an Australian accent is a particular masterstroke, as is the rather strange sight of a singing cyclops. One of many, many magical moment and also features many things that simply shouldn't work but just do.

It helps that is features some excellent classic tunes delivered to perfection by the nine strong cast and four piece band. The songs from the actual film include the familiar Evil Woman, Strange Magic and of course Xanadu. While the musical includes a couple more Newton-John songs, Have You Never Been Mellow and added for this production, Physical, which features perhaps one of the most overtly gay experiences in the theatre you could ever see.

The cast are all sublimely brilliant, multi skilled in the extreme from singing, dancing, acting and yes, roller blading. The leads Carly Anderson and Samuel Edwards (Sonny) are both brilliant, with the former irritatingly (in a good way) over the top Aussie accent quite superb, as are their vocals, clean and crisp throughout. As already suggested this is one flawless cast, where the so-called smaller roles by Joel Burman, Nicholas Duncan, Emily McGougan and Micha Richardson are performed with such skill and overwhelming love of what they are doing that you cannot help but to love every minute.

Nigel Barber in the Gene Kelly role of Danny at first appears to bring the authoritative figure to the show, but soon with his tie firmly tied around his head he has given in to the love of utter madness. Also teetering on that edge is a quite brilliant Alison Jiear as Melpomene. Quite brilliant and very upfront with the front row. Those stares during Evil Woman will perhaps haunt me for many a day. There were actually a mix of moments during the show where I was both sad and happy to be in the slightly safer second row, however with the venue so intimate, you constantly felt within the action at all times. It is a shame perhaps that this is one thing that may be lost in a larger venue.

Back to the cast and my favourite had to be Lizzy Connolly as Calliope, comically brilliant in delivery and movement, and with no disrespect to the others as this was a top notch cast, I could have watched her all night. Also that cast restriction line and Connolly's reaction was quite superb.

Indeed the book from Douglas Carter Beane is a stunningly brilliant feast of entertainment throughout and where this production lives and breathes and gives the performers so much glorious material to work with. I have rarely felt the need to stand at the end of a production, but for Xanadu I happily rose with the capacity audience and applauded till my hands were raw and the cast had roller bladed from our sight. Quite, quite brilliant and when the West End transfer happens, which it most surely must, get your tickets, this is one place that you must dare to go. I myself would happily be there eternally.

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Performance viewed: Monday 16th November, 2015 at the Southwark Playhouse, London

Xanadu runs until Saturday 21st November, 2015. Details here: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/xanadu/


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