It’s been just a few months since director Matthew Gardiner had me grinding my teeth with rage; now he’s got me giggling like a teenager. Something to be said for a guy who can follow up a grim campus-rape drama with a perfectly pitched roller-disco musical.
Then again, what’s not to like about Xanadu? Douglas Carter Beane‘s rework of the jaw-droppingly wretched 1980 film—-about a beach-bum artist and the roller-skating Greek muse who springs from a mural to inspire him—-takes its source material exactly as seriously as it deserves, which is very little. (Honestly: Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly are in that movie. Together.) But it’s as much salute as send-up, a project juiced by its guilty fondness for the turkey it’s roasting.
At Signature Theatre, Gardiner’s muse is Erin Weaver, who’s done sharp work locally in shows as cerebral as Arcadia and as sprightly as The Comedy of Errors, and who turns out to be ridiculously charming as a feather-headed immortal in leg-warmers. (Remember leg-warmers?) Sings winningly, too, in numbers as indestructibly poppy as “Suddenly” and “I’m Alive” and “Suspended in Time.” (Remember, skeptics, that as terrible as Xanadu the movie’s story is, it’s got a rock-solid songlist, augmented here by additional tracks from the catalog of Electric Light Orchestra‘s Jeff Lynne.) And for once, a smaller band is an asset: The two synths in the Signature orchestra loft impart precisely the right whiff of cheese to the material, with a drummer and a guitarist providing an infectious pop-rock drive.
Weaver’s matched with an agreeably lunkish co-star (Charlie Brady), backed by a chorus of brightly warbling sister muses, and surrounded on all sides by spangles and tie-dyes and neon. (The sensibility of this production’s design is every bit as knowingly mischievous as the book’s.) Even the quick changes have style: One of the 90-minute evening’s bigger guffaws comes courtesy of a phone-booth moment to which a brand new pair of roller skates is key. It’s the kind of tricky, timing-dependent fillip that a sloppier staging might not be able to pull off, but one thing I’m learning about Gardiner is that he’s a devil with the details.
Xanadu runs at Signature Theatre to July 1. $63-$87.