In 1980, a movie called Xanadu opened on a Wednesday and closed by Friday. Concerning an artist who starts a roller disco with help from a Greek Muse, the film featured Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and music by Electric Light Orchestra. Xanadu was so bad it inspired the creation of "The Golden Raspberries" (a.k.a. "The Razzies") — awards given annually to Hollywood's worst.
Well, what do you know but over the years the film has become a campy cult classic, like Showgirls without the porn. And in 2007, much to the surprise of nearly everyone in the New York theater scene, a stage musical version opened on Broadway and became a hit.
Adaptor and book writer Douglas Carter Beane acknowledged that while he was lampooning the film, he was also parodying backstage Broadway gossip and the 1980s. He even threw in references to another Hollywood bomb from the era, Clash of the Titans.
The Theatre Factory presents the Pittsburgh premiere with an excessively enthusiastic version, and it's immediately clear why the show was a hit: It's just laugh-out-loud funny. Beane has written a very specific kind of comedy — part knowing satire, part low-brow camp — which seems silly on the surface. But it dawns on you how much intelligence it takes to be this fluffy, yet keep you involved right up to the end.
It's a tricky show, though. The performers not only have to play comedy, sing and dance ... they need to be able to roller skate, too! It's not surprising that this Theatre Factory production has had trouble rounding up the necessary number of actors with such a precise skill set, because I'm not sure Pittsburgh has the necessary number of such actors.
Director Scott Calhoun has, however, found: people who can sing, including Hannah-Jo Weisberg and Ben Little as Muse and Artist; people who can play comedy (Erin Stetor Seaberg and Victoria Brady); and even a dancer or two, including Parker Servillo.
The production's a bit ragtag right now, but it may tighten up as the run progresses. And in the meantime, you'll get a chance to see just how funny funny can be.