‘Xanadu’ combines humor, music and skates

Jun. 1, 2012 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Tony Butindaro, left, and Samantha Stoltzfus star in Diamond Head Theatre's "Xanadu." --Courtesy photo

Tony Butindaro, left, and Samantha Stoltzfus star in Diamond Head Theatre's "Xanadu." --Courtesy photo

The silver lining in an all-out ridiculous movie? It’s oh-so entertaining to mock.

That’s the operating theory behind “Xanadu,” a rockin’, rollicking roll in the heyday of roller-disco mania premiering today at Diamond Head Theatre, though the producers are using a gentle touch.

With jokes as corny as a skater’s toe, but spectacular song-and-dance numbers both on wheels and off, the stage musical satirizes a 1980 movie that was so bad it effectively ended the film career of its star, Australian pop singer Olivia Newton-John.

If you dare, you might want to Netflix it before you see the show, but even if you don’t, there will be plenty that should resonate with audiences, said director Tammy Colucci, whom DHT brought in from New York.

“Olivia Newton-John had just come off the ‘Grease’ movie,” she said. “This was her next movie, and with that sort of pop sensation that was created around her, I think everyone will have a tie to that somehow. This musical is kind of over the top in that respect.”

The TGIF cover of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for June 1, 2012.

‘XANADU’

Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through June 17

Cost: $12-$42

Info: 733-0274 or diamondheadtheatre.com

The fatal flaw of “Xanadu” the movie was that it had no sense of humor. The theatrical production flies with that, exaggerating the silly parts, such as the singer’s breathy voice and the inane plot.

There’s no question that the original “Xanadu” went off track somewhere. Newton-John, legendary dancer Gene Kelly and the music of the Electric Light Orchestra helped the film barely break even, but the film was panned by critics. It even inspired the creation of the Razzies, now recognized as the unofficial award for cinematic disaster, “winning” for worst director and receiving six other nominations.

So bad was the film that when the Broadway show came out in 2007, Colucci went only because a friend was in a lead role.

“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, how are they going to make this into a musical after seeing the movie?’” she said.

“I begrudgingly went with friends and I laughed for 90 minutes. And I laughed really hard.”

THE STAGE show’s story is essentially the same as the film’s. Frustrated artist Sonny (Tony Butindaro) meets Kira (Samantha Stoltzfus), a beautiful but mysterious woman on roller skates, who inspires him to start a roller disco with the help of businessman Danny (Dan Kunkel). Various obstacles — not the least of which is that Kira is a Greek muse with jealous sisters scheming against her — stand in their way.

The music features tunes from the film, including “Magic,” “All Over the World” and “I’m Alive,” and some additional songs from the era, like “Evil Woman” and “Have You Never Been Mellow.”

Stoltzfus spends almost the entire musical on skates, but for the recent transplant from the stages of New York, skating was not difficult. “My parents worked a lot so they just wanted to keep me out of trouble, so I roller-skated all day,” she said.

The main challenge for Stoltzfus was Newton-John’s voice — not singing in the whispery, sexy voice the diva was known for, but in mocking her Australian accent. Stoltzfus hasn’t mixed with much of Hawaii’s Down Under population yet, so she’s been listening to Newton-John interviews and using the International Phonetic Alphabet to coax out what she calls a “wavy language.”

“It’s a hard accent,” she said. “It’s been referred as British but twangy, so it’s got a lot of characteristics in one word, so (the word) ‘no’ has maybe three different vowel sounds instead of one. ‘Na-a-o.’”

Butindaro also did a little skating in his early years, which has come in handy in the three numbers in which he skates.

“The hardest part is just staying on the stage, because in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, ‘I could fall off the stage at any moment,’” he said.

“‘Xanadu’ was a horrible film, but it’s a perfect movie to spoof,” he said.

Tony Butindaro plays Sonny, a frustrated artist. --Courtesy photo

Tony Butindaro plays Sonny, a frustrated artist. --Courtesy photo

For Kunkel, who was in college in the ’80s, the show has put him in the mentor role. He’s been regaling fellow cast members about Newton-John — “this beautiful, gorgeous woman that teenage guys like me were lusting after” — and other oddities of the era, like leg warmers, the high five and roller mania.

“There’s a reference to the soft drink Fresca, and one of them didn’t know what it was, but I do,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that it was 30 years ago.”

Brittany Browning, who portrays the Greek muse Euterpe, hadn’t skated at all before auditioning for the show in late April, but she’s ready for its big finale, where the entire cast skates.

“I was so scared of falling,” Browning said, recalling the first day of rehearsal. But members of Pacific Roller Derby, an island league, came by to offer tips. Her ballet training at first was a hindrance but later a help.

“I tend to turn out a little bit, so I tend to move from side to side a bit rather than forward,” she said. “I go up on the stoppers at one point, which is kind of like being ‘en pointe’ in ballet, so I consider that my trick.”

Colucci is confident that the skating, singing and dancing will go smoothly and that it will all be funny.

“We have some free time onstage; we call it free skate,” she said. “Everybody is being really brave and taking advantage of their time, thank goodness.”

“The vocals are fantastic, the harmonies are wonderful. I think so many people are going to remember the music from ELO: All those songs are going to bring people back to that style of pop music that was so popular in those days. … It’s silly, it’s feel-good, it’s fun.”

–Steven Mark / smark@staradvertiser.com

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