Thursday night I saw Xanadu. Going in I had mixed feelings about it. I wasn't all too excited about the show, but I was eager to complete my set of this season's tony-nominated musicals. I’ve never seen this many shows in a season. It’s a good feeling! One quirk of Xanadu is that it has on-stage seating. I've never been to a show with on-stage seating, and when an on-stage seat became available, I went for it. That way, even if i didn't really love the show, the experience would definitely be unique. Plus it's less expensive to see the show that way, and I'm all about cutting costs off a $100+ theater ticket. Especially for a 90 minute show.
So when you get the on-stage ticket it comes with a paper that tells you a bunch of things to do in order for you not to detract from the viewing experience for those sitting in the house and also to keep the actors safe on stage. The most important of these rules are (1) arrive at the theater early so you have time to be seated on stage before the show starts and (2) don't bring a lot of crap with you because there is nowhere to store it besides directly under your seat. So of course I come running into the theater at 7:53pm with my giant laptop bag in hand. At least I was in presentable clothing and remembered to shave earlier that morning, so i wasn't a total Uggo. I shove my way past people and get to the Usherette at the foot of the stage. Our convo goes like this:
Usherette: Are you in onstage seating?
Usherette: Have you been in onstage seating before?
Usherette: But you've seen the show before?
Usherette: This is your first time at the 'Du???
(Okay, Owen. Maintain your composure even though she just referred to the show as, The Du.)
Usherette: Wow. You're in luck. Tonight is the night Lincoln Center is taping the show. So you are gonna be a part of recorded history!
Me: Really? Great! Do I have time to use the bathroom before the show starts?
Usherette: You better go now. Once you walk through that door [to the stage] you can't leave again until the show is over.
Me: Okay, I'll be right back.
Usherette: Hurry, you only have 4 minutes!
So I run downstairs, pee really quickly - i might have cut the line, but who cares? they didn't have to be onstage! and i did wash my hands afterwards, because hygiene matters- and I run back to the Usherette at the front of the house. We have another conversation:
Usherette: Okay, you're ready?
Usherette (pointing to my water bottle): You cannot take your water on stage.
Me: Oh, I'll put it in my bag.
Usherette: No. It cannot go on stage at all. There is a ledge just beyond this door. You can leave the water there and pick it up after the performance. No one will take it.
Usherette: I am going to give you a glow stick. Do you know how to break a glow stick?
Me: Yes. (I lie.)
Usherette: You just snap it.
Usherette: Don't snap it now!
Usherette: At the end of the play, when they're singing "Xanadu" that's when you break the glow stick, and then you all will get up and dance. The cast will tell you when to do this. Don't worry about it. You ready to dance?
Me: I am totally ready to dance.
Usherette: Okay, walk through the door and they'll lead you to your seat.
Me: Do I have a specific seat?
Usherette: No, it's first come, first serve. We'll see what's left for you.
I pass through the magical stage door and make my ascent to the stage (after dropping off my water bottle on the ledge). Another Usherette leads me on to the stage indicating where i shouldn't walk so that the roller skate ramps stay clean. I squeeze myself into my seat and the Usherette lets me know I'm sitting next to two Xanadu audience pro's, so if i have any questions i'm in good hands. I cram my jacket and laptop bag under my seat, and immediately ask the audience pro to my right about the glo stick issue. She assures me it's not that complicated and just tells me to wait until the end.
So then Cheyenne Jackson comes out on stage and we’re off! At this point, I don’t really know what the hell to do. I had felt a small amount of pressure to make it seem like I was enjoying the show when it was just that the rest of the audience could see me. Now with the cameras filming me, I felt immense pressure to seem engaged and enthusiastic the entire time. This is not easy for me. Sometimes my mind wanders or I need to take a little nap during a show. And that’s during a really good show! I didn’t even know if I’d LIKE this one and now I felt like I had to laugh at everything so I didn’t come off looking like some asshole on the recording.
So the show was… I don’t really know what to say about it actually. I was hardly in a place to view it objectively, what with being on stage and also not really being able to see what the rest of the audience saw. The show is definitely the “Dancing With The Stars” of Broadway. It’s got skilled professionals doing their thing, but it’s camped out to the max and totally slathered in cheese. It’s quick and fun and totally capital letters GAY. It’s out of its mind, in love with it’s own gawdiness and stupidity, but it’s also sweet and not doing anybody any harm. I can tell you that everyone in the cast have very toned glutes and huge leg muscles. Butts in tight costumes were on display the whole time. The actors know this of course and give you an extra shimmy and a knowing wink as they spin around and it’s totally adorable. The dancing in the was great. Most of the cast really made a point to engage the onstage audience during the show and I certainly felt a camaraderie with them. Cheyenne and Kerry were not as interactive with us, but they had the audience in the house to cater to. Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa as the villainous muses, really gave us a lot to laugh at the rest of the audience wasn’t privy too. There was some low brow physical gags that were for our eyes only. But the show itself has the energy and focus of a child with ADHD who just ingested one of those giant straws filled with colored sugar. It’s a musical that Amy Poehler’s SNL character Caitlin would create. And even though I never saw the movie it’s based on, it turns out I knew more about the music and the plot of Xanadu than I did with South Pacific when I saw that earlier this month. Weird. I managed to keep a smile on my face the entire time with minimal effort, but I think my eyes have an unmistakable “WTF is this?” look of bemusement twinkling in them. At the end, I broke my glow stick just like the pros did, got up and bounced around to the music. I had a lot of fun with the show. It only aims to please. It’s mostly successful at what it tries to do. It’s fiercely committed to sending itself up, which you have to respect for its consistency, but it can also make the show feel cheap at times. I’m glad I went to see it. I think it’s hilarious that if you watch it at the viewing library at Lincoln Center, you’ll see me there.
I would say it’s worth checking out. It’s fun... but here’s where the trickiness of seeing it from on stage comes in. I feel like I saw how hard the actors were working by being so close to them and that endeared me to them. I wonder if I was watching it straight on from the house if I’d have thought it was too broad or too easy. I think that kind of comedy is deceptively difficult. If the show doesn’t take itself seriously (which I believe it doesn’t) but the actors take what they’re doing seriously (which I believe they do) where does that leave us? It left me a little baffled and mystified but ultimately respectful.
One thing I’ve GOT to say though is that I don’t understand Cheyenne’s costume. I don’t care if it’s period, I don’t know or care if that’s what his character wore in the movie, it just looks weird on him to me. His frame is too big for that. I thought it looked cheesy in all the print ads, and it didn’t look any better in person. He’s got these massive legs and the shorts are just not RIGHT. It just looks like an outfit designed for a much smaller person to me. It makes him look like an overgrown kid or something. It’s out of proportion. Somehow, his outfit made me want to dislike him! He was very good though, and it’s too bad he missed out on a Tony nom.
So now I’ve seen all the nominated shows. My thoughts on the Tonys will soon follow.