On a whim, I decided to drive up to Sacramento to catch the touring production of Xanadu at Broadway Sacramento (California Music Theatre). I have to be honest and say I was a little upset that Xanadu decided to skip the Bay Area and go from Costa Mesa to Sacramento. On a marketing level, Xanadu would sell gobs of tickets in the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco. It would be perfect for a theatre like Post Street Theatre where the 25th Annunal Putnam County Spelling Bee touring cast played a few years ago. But instead, Xanadu came to Sacramento and played one of the largest theatres I’ve ever seen – Sacramento Community Center Theatre.
As a whole, the production was top-notch. Fabulous sets, lights, costumes and shiny hanging disco balls were all accounted for but for some reason the production didn’t shine or sparkle. At first, I thought it was because I sat on-stage for the performance (on-stage seating is only $25 – how can I pass that up?) and maybe that’s why it had such a weird energy. But, then I remembered when I saw it on Broadway I was on the front row and for the most part, closer to the actors then when I was on-stage. I thought the Broadway version was spectacular and hilariously funny so that wasn’t the reason. Then, I wanted to blame it on the actors – maybe they were just tired. But then I realized they just started this tour (Sacramento is their second city) so they can’t be that tired. And then it finally dawned on me: it was the audience’s reactions and ginormous space that killed the energy and “shiny-ness” of this production.
Frankly, Sacramento was not ready for this particular musical.
Right when we walked in the door, I noticed a very distinct “air” about several of the theatregoers in the lobby. They were going to the theatre and only in their best attire. Since we had a few minutes to spare, we poked our heads into the Xanadu cardboard cut-out so that we could take pictures of us as Sonny and Clio. We were laughing and having a great time when we noticed that every one around us was not having it. Who were these people? I mean, you’re seeing Xanadu for crying out loud. Don’t take yourselves so seriously!! There are merchandise sales clerks in hot 80’s outfits with leg warmers; this isn’t your normal Broadway musical.
The roller disco skating, beautiful Greek muses and really (extremely) short shorts – all from the 1980’s – seemed like a bit of a stretch for the audience. One of the funniest jokes in the entire show, “This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people!” landed flat as a pancake. I started laughing and realized that I was the only one – talk about an awkward moment for me. I quickly noticed that most of the jokes weren’t landing and that’s why I felt the comedic timing was off with the two leads, Clio (Elizabeth Stanley) and Sonny (Max Von Essen). They weren’t landing because the audience wasn’t really laughing, merely gigglingly (if that).
The Sacramento Community Center Theatre holds 2,452 seats and I bet only 1000 seats were filled on Saturday night. When you look out into the audience (which I had the pleasure of doing from on stage) and you see that you are only at 40% capacity, you think it’s a bit of a failure. It’s extremely hard as an actor to play to an empty space (especially when there are a handful of people at the top of the balcony). When there’s no energy coming back at you, it’s quite a struggle to give it your all.
When put it into perspective, the lack of sparkle wasn’t the productions’ fault. When Xanadu opened on Broadway, it played at the Helen Hayes Theatre – the smallest Broadway theatre. It only holds 597 seats! If the touring production would have performed in a space that was more appropriate (like the Post Street Theatre or something similar in Sacramento), they would have a sold-out production and consequently the energy would have been much different.
I love Xanadu and I’ll continue loving it even though I wasn’t in love with this particular production. I blame it all on the person who chose to send it to Sacramento in that ginormous space. What in the hell were you thinking? Obviously, you weren’t.
Now, this review shouldn’t deter you in seeing this production because it is top-notch, but as an audience member, please let Xanadu do their job and bring “love and happiness” with lots of glitter and mirror balls to everyone. Even better, stand at the end of the production and dance to the closing number, “Xanadu”! You’ll have a great time!
And don’t forget your glow-sticks!
Xanadu at Broadway Sacramento
December 30th, 2009 – January 10th, 2010
Tickets from $18-65 (on-stage seating $25)
Listen to “Xanadu”