Xanadu - Original Broadway Cast Recording

Recording CoverI admit it. Just like librettist Douglas Carter Beane writes in the liner notes of the newly-released Original Broadway Cast recording of Xanadu, when I attended the first preview in May, I was hoping to catch a flop of Carrie-like proportions. After all, the original film musical was a financial and artistic failure, even if it did produce a best-selling soundtrack. Trying to roller-skate on the Helen Hayes Theatre's postage stamp-sized stage would surely be the least of the cast's worries...

So imagine my surprise when the show turned out to be some of the most fun I've ever had at the theatre, and went on to open to the best reviews of any recent film-to-stage adaptation on Broadway. Douglas Carter Beane and his collaborators managed to leverage the camp value inherent in the piece along with the hit score to create a show that's entertaining on its own terms (and not just "children's theatre for 40-year-old gay men" as one of the oft-quoted lines contends).

Several months later, the cast recording has finally arrived in stores. I looked forward mainly to hearing Cheyenne Jackson's take on the lead role of struggling artist Sonny Malone, as he was a last-minute replacement for the injured James Carpinello. Jackson has a silky baritone and easily negotiates the pop score (and, from the look of the promotional photos, fills out his tank top and short shorts rather nicely).

But the real draw of this recording is the adorably perky Kerry Butler, who channels Olivia Newton-John as Clio, the Greek Muse, with the right balance of parody and reverence. Butler has turned up on countless demo recordings and in smaller parts, and it's great to see her break out in a role she so obviously has so much fun playing.

Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, who chewed the scenery as Clio's evil sisters on stage, manage to keep from going too over-the-top on the recording, showcasing their sass in one of the stage musical's interpolated hits, "Evil Woman." Woody Allen-favorite Tony Roberts may pale in comparison to the film's Gene Kelly, but has a gruff charm all his own.

Providing music direction is the unlikely Eric Stern, mostly known for his work on arty Nonesuch recordings with singers like Audra McDonald and Dawn Upshaw. Stern, however, manages to create a pretty full sound with only 4 players and a few pit singers (including journeyman Annie Golden).

But is this recording going to replace your well-worn copy of the Xanadu soundtrack? Surprisingly, after re-listening to Olivia Newton-John et al, the original Broadway cast compares favorably, teeming with infectious energy.


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