by Douglas Carter Beane
directed by Alan Patrick Kenny
The Carnegie Visual + Performing Arts Center
The one-time artistic director and founder of New Stage Collective has been away from Cincinnati for several years, first providing musical entertainment on a cruise ship and then in Los Angeles earning a master’s degree in directing from UCLA. Both experiences have probably contributed to this show, which is a lot of silly fluff (the sort of lighthearted frivolity that appeals to people on a cruise) and some cleverly conceived stage work that adds up to a fine piece of August showmanship.
Xanadu poses some daunting physical challenges, especially for the modest facility at the Carnegie. Kenny has met every obstacle head on: A mural that comes to life? Check. A scene with Pegasus flying the leading lady up to Mount Olympus? Check. In fact, the entire theater is transformed quite nicely (by means of a mirrored disco ball, some stage fog, gauzy drapes and — at one point — a fan) into a posh ballroom and then the home of the gods. You have to see it to believe it, but believe it you will, as long as you bring your sense of humor.
Humor is the operative ingredient, and Kenny’s cast has the talent to play all of this tomfoolery with comic timing and the right flourishes to keep it funny without pushing it too far. Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys has just the right wide-eyed but sweet and dedicated presence to make the central character of the ancient Greek muse Clio both charming and entertaining.
The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati, has mounted a first-class production of this piece, featuring adroit direction and strong performances.
For the Carnegie production, hometown favorite Alan Patrick Kenny returns to the tri-state with Xanadu serving as his thesis production toward receiving his Masters in Directing from UCLA. Mr. Kenny instills the piece with a hipness and an aptly fun and playful tone. He stages many moments quite cleverly, has prepared his performers admirably, and makes great use of the performance space, including the aisles and balconies.
Xanadu is fun and frivolous, but solidly written and entertaining as well. The Carnegie Center production is very good, with special praise for the direction and a strong cast which is a mix of professionals, college students, and seasoned community theater vets.
Photos by Mikki Schaffner