The continuing popularity of the stage version of “Xanadu,” which concludes the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s 2015 Nutmeg Summer Series, can be traced to an unlikely collaboration that was born during its initial Hollywood incarnation in 1980 at a pivotal moment in pop music history.
The collaboration between the appealing hit-maker Olivia Newton-John and the rock-classical fusion group Electric Light Orchestra occurred as the popularity and flash of disco music in the late 1970s converged with the launch of Music Television (MTV).
Although the 1980 film was not as critically successful as the singer’s screen debut two years earlier in “Grease,” the soundtrack included two No. 1 hits – “Magic” for Newton-John in the United States and “Xanadu” for ELO in the United Kingdom – and was revived with additional ELO hits in the stage musical that opened on Broadway in 2007.
On Broadway, “Xanadu” won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the Drama Desk Award for Best Book, while also gaining four Tony Award nominations. And the original cast recording of the show reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts in January 2008.
Music from Broadway and Hollywood films has long influenced the public’s listening preferences, from Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” in “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939 to the soundtrack of the film version of “Les Miserables” – presented by CRT earlier this season — which reached the top of the Billboard 200 in 2013.
The stage musical “Xanadu” is set in 1980s Venice Beach, Calif., where a muse named Clio is disguised as a mortal to inspire Sonny Malone, a chalk artist and beach boy. Clio faces the wrath of her father, Zeus, and the jealousy of her sisters, Melpomene and Calliope, while struggling to fit in as a mortal as she and Danny try to open a roller disco with mirror balls.
“The classic pop songs from the 1970s and 80s guarantee an entertaining alchemy for a magical summer night,” says Vincent Cardinal, artistic director of the CRT production, which opens July 9. “This is a hilarious story brought to life by a company of talented veteran artists, mid-career professionals, and recent graduates from top-flight theater programs around the nation.”
Amandina Altomare plays the lead role of Clio/Kira. She previously appeared on the CRT stage as Louise in “Gypsy” Judy in “A Chorus Line” and Philia in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Altomare is a member of the USO Show Troupe that travels the world providing entertainment for veterans and active military.
Luke Hamilton, who plays Sonny, is returning to CRT after previously playing Don in “A Chorus Line” and Tulsa in “Gypsy.” His other recent credits include Curly in “Oklahoma!,” Homer in “Floyd Collins,” Kodaly in “She Loves Me,” and Harry/Martin in “Cloud 9.”
The CRT production of “Xanadu” continues through July 19 at the Harriet Jorgensen Theatre. For tickets and information go to the CRT website.