Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Now that you're near

Oh shit. Here it is, that holiday I always forget the name of, and me without a thing to post about. Only post I will, as post I must. It is a point of pride around here, as you know.

Well I can write a little something about Xanadu, I suppose, having taken in that very spectacle with my sister. That's how the D'Annato family says "Happy Birthday, Jesus! You don't look a day over 2,000!"--by standing in line at TKTS. It is as if to say: see? We suffer, too.

There's no reason to convince you folks that you should or should not see Xanadu. I think more than any play in Broadway history, you pretty much know from the name, the poster, and the crowd lined up in front of the theater whether this is going to be your cup of merde or not. Although actually, my sister went in thinking they had just settled for staging the unvarnished affront to a first grade education that is Xanadu, the movie. And so was taken aback to find that those responsible have chosen to parody what is already parody.

The main question is whether you've seen the movie, and even that doesn't help entirely. Sure, it makes sense, or perhaps I should dust off the scare quotes and say "sense" of a few details like the streamers they all pull out at the end of "I'm Alive." But I think it is also possible to feel a tiny bit sad for Olivia Newton-John while you're watching the hilarious, disarming Kerry Butler making sport of the world's least self-conscious performance of anything, ever. I mean, isn't that why Xanadu is somewhat beloved camp instead of completely unwatchable crap, because of its infinite sincerity?

I can tell you that if, long about 1980, you were a seven-year-old who was just beginning, in the depths of his latency-stage soul, to wonder if maybe possibly you were actually....Olivia Newton-John, some of this is actually unironically life-affirming. Yes, you now think I'm either kidding or mildly retarded, and that's fine. But I know when I beheld the scene where poor Gene Kelly's character is reminiscing about the 40's and Sonny is talking about that rad new 80's music, and an imaginary Andrews Sisters type ensemble gets aesthetically smooshed together with the very worst of what I believe was called New Wave, saw it taking place in the flesh in front of me, it was like I relived those ten minutes or so when I didn't mind being 8 again. That scene, as I may have said, is the Ariadne auf Naxos of movie musicals on rollerskates.

The part you've probably heard most about is, say, can you have a subplot when the plot itself is already rather sub-everything? Well I mean the added characters played by Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, and they are indeed hilarious, I think not so much because their lines are great but because they're just very funny people--the genius of their use here is about context more than material. Jackie Hoffman's very being seems to scream out "are you kidding me with this shit?"

But, also too--as I used to hear people in the midwest begin their sentences, shortly before I beat them to death with a style manual--there is low-key genius in the performances of Kerry Butler and the inhumanly attractive Cheyenne Jackson. Srsly, I went in ready to hate him because he is the embodiment of phenotypal unfairness in the universe, but he gives this completely goofy performance that exonerates him for looking like everything you ever hated about The Big Cup. (Hey did you ever see how there were actual I-kid-you-not candles burning in front of that place after it closed? Some friends and I stumbled upon that little funeral and I coudn't stop myself from muttering "e avanti a lui, tremava tutta Chelsea" to nobody's particular delight.)

And Kerry Butler, yeah, was like a big beacon radiating fun as Clio/Kira, the role mortalized by ONJ in the Ur-Xanadu. Once in a while she privileged humor over singing in a tiresome way in songs that I really do think are rather fine exemplars of their era, but until ELO does one of these "back from the nursing home" tours everyone else is doing, I guess I am alone in taking them semi-seriously anyway. Ms. Butler has lots of things to commend her: she's a New Yorker, she has very good comic timing and a solid set of pipes, and she never looks like she's going to crash into the orchestra pit.

Xanadu is playing at the Helen Hayes maybe for a while longer. Or forever. I keep getting them mixed up. Get me with the actual Xanadu quotes, huh? Guys like me shouldn't blog!

Next up: good question. I keep saying War & Peace and I keep not going.


Civic Center said...

Go to "War and Peace." It would be a perfect complement, in its own way, to "Xanadu," if only in its bizarre sincerity from one of the most cynical composers ever to write music (which is part of why I love Prokofiev).

Anonymous said...

"That scene, as I may have said, is the Ariadne auf Naxos of movie musicals on rollerskates."

Maury, with superb writing like that, you are the Cheyenne Jackson of music blogs!