Thursday, February 7, 2008

In Xanadu Did Kubla Khan...

I don't go to Broadway shows often. There's the cost, of course: Catherine and I see a lot of plays every week, but probably 95% of the tickets we buy are the $15-20 Off Off Broadway variety. There's also the fact that, usually, there's not that much on Broadway that interests me. Oddly enough, there are several productions now or coming up soon that I think we will lay out the scratch to see: we already have tickets to see Tom Stoppard's Rock and Roll; we want to see The 39 Steps (partly because we love the Hitchcock film and partly because it sounds like the kind of meta-theatrical production we really like); and Sunday in the Park with George (while I'm not a big fan of musicals, I've always loved Sondheim).

Last night, we had tickets to see Xanadu.

I wasn't expecting much. I never saw the movie. I began my senior year in high school in 1980, so every song in the score was played ad infinitum on KVIL in Fort Worth/Dallas (which was always the ladies' radio station of choice when I went parking in my mom's '77 LTD—unlike my '72 Gremlin, that car had FM stereo). I think the last time I went roller skating, they were still playing Grand Funk Railroad's cover of "The Locomotion".  And I never really liked Olivia Newton-John—ever.

I can't say I loved the show, but overall I had a good time. Douglas Carter Beane's book was by far my favorite part of the evening: tightly written, integrated the songs nicely, and funny in the self-referential way I expected it to be. I told Catherine that I thought the joke about it being a show for 40-year old gay men was probably the most dead-on—you don't have to be a gay man, but there were several times when I thought the 60-year-old guy sitting next to us or the under-30-somethings in the audience probably didn't get what I thought were some of the funnier lines.

As for the rest of the show, the music is well-performed, both by the band and the cast... although, with the exception of "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic," I could happily live the rest of my life and never hearing any of the songs again (and those two very rarely, really). I thought the pace was good until the last half hour, when it started to drag a bit; but the whole thing is only 90 minutes without an intermission—the PERFECT length for any play. It's not much of a role for him but Tony Roberts is a first-rate actor and he does a good job; he pushed for laughs less than anyone else in the cast (it's not funnier if you mug, gang—it just telegraphs to the audience that you don't trust the material).

The big thing I came away with at the end of the evening was how difficult it is to write comedy, especially in a commercial situation. I thought Beane allowed his own sensibilities came out in the book and, while it's not my sense of humor, it worked in this case. I don't mean this in a nasty way, but it made me think of good sitcom writing—it doesn't have an edge and the jokes aren't very challenging, but they usually land. Even as a devotee of more edgy, experimental work, I've seen plenty of productions downtown that were less successful.

And, for the record, Catherine and I were joking before the show that we wouldn't be hearing any Coleridge during the show... and we were wrong!

No comments: