The Column Online


Book by Douglas Carter Beane,
Music by Jeff Lynne & John Farrar

Level Ground Arts

Directors - Andi Allen and Bill Fountain
Musical Director - M. Shane Hurst
Choreographers - Andi Allen and Emily Shaw
Skate Choreography - Kelly Holmes
Set Designer - Andi Allen
Lighting Designer - Lee Hartsock
Costume Designer - Lindi Joy
Stage Manager - Monica Meadows
Hair and Makeup Designer - Michael B. Moore
Properties - Andi Allen, Bill Fountain, Emily Shaw, Ande Bewley

Angel Velasco - Sonny Malone
Misty Venters - Kira/Clio
Lon Barerra - Danny Maguire
Sara Shelby-Martin - Melpomene/Medusa
Andi Allen - Callipe/Aphrodite
Michael B. Moore - Thalia/Tubes
Whitney Wilson -Euterpe/Thetis
Cassidy Crown - Erato/Hera
Marcus Jauregui - Terpsicore/Hermes

M. Shane Hurst - Keyboard/Urania
Thiago Nascimento - Keyboards/Polyhmnia
Michael Ragsdale - Guitar / Bob
Shane Strawbridge - Bass
Patrick Herring - Drums

Reviewed Performance: 8/6/2011

Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Xanadu was a long time coming. First the famously interrupted and opium induced Coleridge poem made the name of the Chinese pleasure palace famous. Then an often neglected Rita Hayworth film featured a story about a muse who helped a Hollywood producer. This in turn inspired the 1980's cult movie flop and career killer for Olivia Newton John, as well as the final film for Gene Kelly.

That plot concerns a muse inspiring an artist to create a roller disco arts compound. Xanadu the musical is essentially an adaptation of the 1980's movie, and includes many of the popular songs from ELO. The story is still about a muse who comes to the aid of a struggling artist and is tricked by her evil sisters into falling into love with him as well as sharing in the creation of art, both things forbidden to a muse.

A cult piece like this is well within the mission of Level Ground Arts who scored the regional premiere. In their scrappy, plucky, low-budget hands this production is likely to surpass Evil Dead as their patrons favorite show, and justly so. Xanadu is a comedic treat that would be a fun weekend outing.

Directors Andi Allen and Bill Fountain milk every bit of camp and cheese from every line possible. The pacing is quick and the gags are tight; they insert an intermission instead of just running the show straight through as scripted. With minimal scenery and production elements, the narrative rests on the shoulders of the young cast. The energetic group does not disappoint.

Allen's set design is a platform unit at center with some half flats that mask upstage exits. A few columns decorate the front of this main unit. It's bare but allows for multiple locations and space for dancing/skating. Lee Hartsock's lights are effective and unobtrusive. While there were significant and annoying microphone problems in the first half, most were corrected by the second.

Costume Designer Lindi-Joy creates a palate of Greek attire in various colors for the chorus of men and women, all of whom play sister muses. Gods are in white robes, humans are in items that reflect the trends of the 1980's. A great deal of time is spent making several fantasy pieces as well. With the laughs they induce (in a good way), it is time well spent. Michael B. Moore's wigs are an excellent addition to these costumes.

The choreography is pretty basic and one ensemble member is consistently unsure of the steps while another is clearly fuzzy on the words. Still, the dances are fun, and the skating is a nice touch. It wouldn't hurt to take the skating elements further.

The clear standout of the show is Angel Velasco. Velasco nails both the IQ and physical character of Sonny without ever over-doing it. His timing is spot-on and his vocals are refreshingly his own. His singing is solid, especially in his middle and lower voice. With the entire story hinging on the audience loving this 80's dimwit, Velasco rises to the challenge and clearly enjoys the ride.

Misty Venters as Kira (the Olivia Newton John role) has quite the challenge. Her character is written to be a satirical take on ONJ's performance in the movie. It's difficult to pay that homage and make the role one's own as well. Venters comes to life in the duet "Suddenly" with Velasco, and relaxes into a very comfortable, fun place that allows her to be goofy - physically and vocally - for the rest of the show. Once she lets go, the audience has as much fun watching Kira as she does performing the role.

In perhaps the quasi-thankless role as the stick-in-the-mud, Lon Barrera makes the best of what he's given to do. Danny Maguire is the cold, corporate "villain" of the piece; the heroes must get him to loosen up in order to accomplish what they want. It's an unusual balance to find the "threat" in this character, the buzz kill in the middle of party. Barrera is mean enough but isn't given the chance to really reflect on his past choices and have the time to evolve the character. A few moments of seriousness for this Scrooge would really resonate and balance the comedy quite nicely. Once Maguire loosens up, Barrera joins the glee and brings a new energy to the happy group. He navigates his vocals well and nicely executes a fantasy dance solo. Barerra also serves a fun turn as Zeus.

As the comedic villains, Andi Allen and Sara Shelby-Martin are the baddies to root for. Shelby-Martin comes across as the leader of the duo with Allen as her Yes Man. Both of them plot, ad-lib, and dominate any scene they are in. Vocally the pair shine in "Evil Woman".

There's only so many ways to say that a show is fun, the cast is enjoying themselves, and the performances are good without going into details that contain spoilers. There is indeed a party at KD Studios and Level Ground Arts is a fun host.

Level Ground Arts at the KD Studios Theatre, 2600 N. Stemmons
Frwy Dallas, TX 75207
Plays through August-27, 2011

Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15pm. For more info go to Reservations can be made by calling 214-630-5491.