Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Xana-Redu—StageWorks Ink—SE Portland

“Faraway, So Close”

This musical adaptation is playing at The Hostess, 538 SE Ash, on Thurs.-Sat. at 7:30 pm through Sept. 19th.  The show is adapted from the original screenplay by Richard Christian & Marc Rubel and original score by Jeff Lynne, ELO & Olivia Newton-John of the film, Xanadu.  The play is directed by Steve Coker (Artistic Director of the company), musical direction by James Liptak and choreography by Corinn deWaard, Stephanie Seaman, Jamie Langton and Cara DeFillippis.  The Co-Producers are TripTheDark Dance Company.  Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets or for more information, go to their site at

So, raise your hands if you can remember the 80’s?  Okay, quite a few.  Now, how many can remember a film musical of that era called, Xanadu.  Ah, only a few, as I suspected.  Well, it starred Olivia Newton-John, hot off her success from Grease and, I believe, the last film of Gene Kelly’s.  The movie failed, as did a Broadway version (too campy, I’ve heard).  In fairness, the music is quite good (the popular song, “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head,” has been added and is quite well known) but the story, a simple fantasy and some of the songs and dances are straight from the 40’s, so it may have been ahead of its time.

This adaptation is a homage to the film and holds up very well, introducing us to two bygone eras, the 40’s (Glenn Miller era) & 80’s, of music and style.  It’s an old-fashioned love story with some Greek Muses thrown in for fun.  It seems the Greek gods have gotten bored in the Great Hereafter and have decided to bring one young man, an artist, Sonny (Illya Torres Garner) and an oldster, Danny (Steve Coker), together so that, combing their talents, Sonny, a record album designer/artist and Danny, a real estate agent (formerly on clarinet with the Glenn Miller band), can create a night club called “Xanadu.”

But these mismatched people need some nudging in that creative direction, so along comes, Kira (Sarah DeGrave), to help them realize their dream.  Of course, the inevitable happens and Sonny falls in love with her.  And, “if music be the food of love, play on.”  At first musical genres is an issue, as these two men have differing opinions, and the girl seems to inspire them both, as if she seems use to flying in and out of people’s lives to give them hope.  In the end, compromises are reached but the love of Sonny’s life may have been lost.  To find out the conclusion, you must see the show.

This is done in a “black box” space, meaning that it is essentially performed on a bare stage, thus allowing the artists, the writers and the audience’s imaginations to shine through to create this world of illusion.  And they get an A for their effort!  Liptak is the entire electronic orchestra and he is amazing (and his wife Val, and son Peter, are also involved in the local Arts, too).  The dancing in this is super and the choreographers (mentioned above) should be commended (both deWaard and Seaman play Muses).  The dance numbers and Liptak’s music are two of the highlights of the show.  The nine muses are terrific singers and dancers (as well as play other roles).

Garner is a pleasing Sonny giving us a naïve and innocent character who will, like Rocky or the Karate Kid, have the tenacity to defy all odds and do the impossible.  DeGrave I have touted before in shows, both musical and dramatic, and always found her to stand out, as she does here.  She has a wonderful voice and does justice to Newton-John’s songs.  Look to see more of her in the future.  And Coker has the seemingly impossible job of Director, Producer and actor in this play.  He has staged the scenes so that there is no lost in time changing from one location to another.  And his singing and dancing is so smooth and effortless that you feel you have been transported back to that era of the 40’s.  He, and his company, are people to watch for the next few years, as they are on the rise to get their fair share of recognition.  I know Coker has a very full schedule for directing, designing and acting in the future.

And a thing about Muses, they are very real, at least to artists.  My electronic Muse and creator of this blog, Jennifer Larson-Cody, has always had faith in me.  As far as my artistic muse, she is a mysterious someone, who watches over my shoulder as I’m writing and guides my hand.  Most artists will tell you that Art is not something you choose but, if it  finds you worthy, it will guide you’re path.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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