Elizabeth Stanley and Max von Essen in Xanadu
(© Carol Rosegg)
Elizabeth Stanley and Max von Essen in Xanadu
(© Carol Rosegg)
The idiom "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" didn't seem to daunt playwright Douglas Carter Beane and director Christopher Ashley, who have taken the much-ridiculed 1980s roller boogie flop film Xanadu, which has launched its post-Broadway national tour at the La Jolla Playhouse, and turned it into an 85-minute musical funfest on stage. The show is a delight from start to finish, firmly placing a smile on your face and a lift in your heart that won't soon fade.

Beane wisely jettisoned much of the film's plot and dialogue, replacing it with a sly, witty, campy send up of pop culture, Greek mythology, and the 1980s. The Muses come to life from a chalk drawing on a wall in Venice, California, and all stick around to help struggling artist Sonny Malone (Max von Essen). Main muse Clio (Elizabeth Stanley) is determined to help Sonny realize his potential; but since muses are forbidden to reveal themselves as such to humans, she decides to call herself Kira and appear in a disguise consisting of leg warmers, roller skates, and an Australian accent.

With her help, Sonny eventually finds the perfect abandoned theater to realize his dream, and contacts the owner, Danny Maguire (Larry Marshall), who had his own muse (guess who?) many years earlier. Meanwhile, Clio's older and jealous sisters Melpomene (Sharon Wilkins) and Calliope (Joanna Glushak) plan to curse her by making her fall in love with Sonny -- a big no-no -- and fall out of favor with her father. Eventually Clio is summoned back to Mount Olympus on Pegasus to face the wrath of big daddy, Zeus.

The film's one saving grace was the score by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, and it is well served here by the talented cast and music director Jesse Vargas and his "in the wings" band. Besides the film's pop hits, including, "Magic," "Suddenly," and "All Over the World," a few nifty additions from the ELO catalog have been made. Wilkins and Glushak tear into "Evil Woman," while the musical question "Have You Never Been Mellow?" is asked of Zeus.

The cast is sublime, starting with Stanley, who carries the show on her dainty shoulders as she skates about the set, switching her Australian "g'day mate" persona on and off with elan. Her charm is as infectious as her voice is melodious. Von Essen plays Sonny winningly, almost like a surfer whose board has hit his head a few times too many. (He also fills out his state-of-California-mandated short-shorts very well!) Wilkins and Glushak camp it up outrageously as the jealous sisters, while Marshall adds a mature and steady balance as Danny.

Dan Knechtges' choreography is lively and inventive, mixing boogie with classic moves and delivering pizzazz. David Gallo's set is simple and stately, combining Greek columns with skating ramps and plenty of disco balls. David Zinn provides the cast with colorful costumes; Howell Binkley creates an electric light show that dazzles and bedazzles; and Zachary Borovay's projections do the trick. Most of all, Ashley directs this confection with the panache of a fine baker, making a soufflé that rises to perfection and never falls flat.