"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea." These words penned by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797 are part of an account of Xanadu, the summer palace of Chinese emperor Kublai Kahn. The poem whilst not well received by some Coleridge’s contemporaries, is now considered to be a cornerstone example of Romanticism in English poetry. The poem’s opening lines are recited by Danny MaGuire (played by Gene Kelly) in the film version of Xanadu. And thus the naming of the Xanadu club.
The 1980 film Xanadu was an adaptation of an earlier film entitled Down to Earth. Down to Earth starred Rita Hayworth, Ronald Culver, Larry Parks, James, Gleason, and Marc Platt. The 1947 film was a sequel to an earlier film entitled Here Comes Mr. Jordan. The film Xanadu and its plot was inspired by Down to Earth. The film was a box office failure, barely breaking even after its initial release. The soundtrack to the film though was a commercial success. The film has since garnered a cult following.
The musical Xanadu was first staged in 2007 on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre. It is based on the film version of Xanadu. The musical adaptation ties many plot deficiencies from the film together including the Chalk mural from the start of the film and the true meeting and relationship of Sonny Malone and Danny Maguire. Theatrepeople recently met with Emily Hall (playing Clio) and Karl McNamara (playing Sonny Malone) from Fab Nobs Theatre Inc to discuss their upcoming production of the musical Xanadu.
TP: Xanadu, a film with a cult following that was a box office flop at the time. What feelings are evoked when you think about performing Xanadu?
KM: I think there's a little bit of pressure involved whenever you’re doing an adaptation of something. You're always going to have the fans. I think what the creators of this musical have done very cleverly is that they have maintained the parts of the movie that are the most recognisable. And have twisted the parts that are cringeworthy into something hilarious.
EH: If you liked the movie, you’ll like the musical. But if you hated the movie, I think you'll love the musical. It takes everything about the film that is cringeworthy and makes it hilarious.
TP: Let's talk about the music. How hard was it to work with the songs from the musical, with a couple of new ones thrown in obviously. And with such an iconic sound and film soundtrack?
KM: They needed to tell the story of the show. So they had to be clever with what songs they used. They're not in the same order they are in the movie.There are songs in the show that people will definitely recognise even if they've never seen Xanadu. Which is great because the songs and the album, the Xanadu album is far more popular than the movie. The movie owes its success to the music.
TP: Characters, with the character of Kira, what sort of process did you go through to create the character that you're hoping that audience will see?
EH: Kira isn't really one character, she's three. Kira also doubles as a muse named Clio who puts on the persona of an Australian. So there was the combination of working out how to do that accent. I didn't really necessarily want to have my normal voice. There's also looking at Clio and how she comes across as the leader of the muses. There's also another scene where you've got this Southern American belle from the forties. It has been quite challenging trying to fit all that in with an added combination of roller skates. It's something else that you need to think about a lot. And as soon as you start to become confident is when accidents may and can happen.
TP: Sonny's character. Different again from the film. In the film he's a bit of a smart-arse painter. Very standard artist in inverted commas. In the show’s synopsis you're a sidewalk chalk artist. Is that right?
KM: With Sonny, they’ve slightly changed his profession in the show and his attitude as well. There were aspects in the movie that show Sonny wasn't that intelligent. I think they've really picked up on that and tried to emphasise that facet. He never really questions anything, which is perfect for when you're in a show with magic involved. A lot of things in the movie were actually never explained. Now having rehearsed this musical, I understand the movie so much more. It makes links where there were none in the movie. So for example: The chalk mural at the start of the movie where they sing I'm Alive and the muses come alive, in the stage version that's explained as his drawing.
TP: What are some of the other connections that are explained in the show?
EH: There is a whole other side to the story which is the muses themselves. It isn't talked about at all in the film. There's two supporting characters: Melpomene and Calliope who are two jealous muse sisters. They work their own magic to create a bit of mayhem.
TP: What about the meeting between Danny MaGuire and Sonny Malone? In the movie, it seems like a very random event that wasn't really very well connected as well as it could have been. Is that better explained?
KM: Just this idea of being able to go back to the source and see what was missing and then being able to write that dialogue to be able to piece things together. So there is dialogue that is explaining Sonny’s love for 1980s rock music and a roller disco. Danny is for going back to things that he wanted as a young man: A classy Andrews Sisters type swing music kind of feel.
The Broadway production was critically acclaimed. It was nominated for a lot of awards. And for a Jukebox musical which at heart it is, it's a jukebox musical slash movie to musical come transformation. To be acclaimed is actually a really hard thing to do with that type of musical. I think it's just because at its core, it's really clever.
KM: I think it really suits Fab Nobs. Because it's an intimate space and the audience will feel that they are a part of the world of the muses and the roller disco at the end. The Broadway production actually had an audience on stage. In a way, our production kind of mimics that.
EH: Originally on Broadway, it was a ninety-minute one act production. Here we have the option to have an interval. We're splitting it into two acts. It's short and sharp and it's quite punchy and quick. And I think it really suits the space.
TP: One final question. What do you hope audiences will take away from the whole Xanadu experience?
KM: I think that this show's really consumer friendly. It's music theatre people friendly. But it's also general public friendly. Which is really hard to get that mix in a show. They can definitely have a laugh. We've been working on making it as funny as possible. And adding some our own personal jokes in there as well.
KM: And as Emily said, they can sit there at our seated area where they can sit with a table Cabaret style. They can get a drink, get a Fab Nobs platter and really enjoy the show and experience as well.
EH: I think there's some kind of connection with this show being Xanadu, a factory in the middle of downtown L.A. and turning it into a roller disco. It somewhat translates to maybe Fab Nobs and a theatre community in the middle of an industrial area in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.
Xanadu runs from Friday 21st of March to Saturday 5th April, 2014. More information at: http://www.fabnobstheatre.com.au