This production of XANADU, the stage musical based on the film, was a surprising if qualified success. To start with, it’s surprising that after the debacle film by Olivier Newton-John, whose climatic whirling skate dervish climax can be seen for for all eternity on Youtube tube, that sales of its songs were so successful and the Broadway musical ran for over 500 performances, winning major awards.The contrived, frothy narrative and characters about love that spans humans and the gods is like a dead weight that holds the songs back and potentially buries them, in self parody and bubbles. 

There are14 songs, most of them catchy. Tanya Boyle did a rich rendition of ‘Evil Woman’, a song that brought soul into the show. Lacinda Fisk was right on cue, stepping well into the shoes of Newton-John, as the blond Australian Clio, and also the goddess Kira. She pushed through a bevy of songs (‘I’m Alive’, ‘Suddenly’, and of course ‘Xanadu’, to mention a few) with charismatic leadership for the strong ensemble and chorus. Kurt Russo was right on the mark as her arty earthling lover, Carla Venezia had divine humour, Sabina Kirkham and Alexis Hutchinson had a ball in a truly ensemble show. Vincent Huynh and Louise Vinciguerra oozed dextrous charm in appropriately soft attributes of the male gods, and Zeus was played with forbidding irony by Alexander Morgan. Taylor van Veen topped off this talented and accomplished cast. 

Lacinda Fisk (also the producer, publicist and  production manager) did very well to assemble a strong, non local cast in this suburban production at Sutherland Arts Centre, as her premiere showing for her own Ikigal Entertainment entity. It is an achievement for a 26 year old. Events in the refurbished old Soldiers’ Memorial Hall are now assisted by publicity for the main Pavilion Theatre across the railway tracks. However one might well ask why this expansive show was not staged in the Pavilion Theatre? Despite renovation the Arts Centre had a tight stage, and still does not have raked seating. Apparently seating was planned but the money was spent elsewhere in the arts precinct. This was a huge oversight and hopefully the council leaders can top up the renovation, and enable the theatre to be a true small arts venue. Such venues are desperately needed in Sydney suburbs.

Having said that, Lacinda spent extra effort on front of house and foyer decoration, and the set by Darren Hutchinson (who also did stage management) was truly professional in its detail and use of levels and columns. Lachlan Roberts and Bradley Jarvis did a complex and fluid design, with borderline g(l)arish moments. The technical production including audio (Oliver Brighton) was all of a high standard.

Jessica Kuit (choreography) did a first rate job in moving this busy show – a difficult task when style is meant to look just so populist. It was a pleasure to watch the constantly changing mise en scène of dance, music, singing and lights. Meg Day (director) and Jessica did an accomplished job considering the show was mounted in three weeks of part time rehearsing. Granted, it was every week night, however that is still a remarkable and trend setting way of doing theatre of this nature, and a testimony to the experience of the cast. Lacinda is to be congratulated doing a full season under independent/commercial theatre conditions in a lesser known even dark suburban venue. Hopefully this show is the foundation for more, in such venues, which can benefit from lessons of this production. 

The XANADU production can have optics of suburban music societies. Without generalising about the quality of such amateur companies, the standard of this show was high, quite as good it seems as the Hayes Theatre presentation some years ago (as evident on short Youtube archival videos). There really is a lot to enjoy about the show, and the opening night audience was well to be on its feet at the end. When the boyfriend of Lacinda came unannounced on stage at the very end and proposed, complete with kneeling and ring, the emotional timbre went right up. The audience was young and full, yet it’s not often young women come out to the foyer fanning and with tears at the emotional overload.

Lacinda intends to do more independent productions. Performers are paid a moderate fee, and this aspiration deserves full support. I am not entirely sure this production qualifies as independent – it lacks the artistic or thematic edge normally associated with that term. Commercial yes. And there is nothing wrong with that word. Maybe a new category is required – the commercial/independent show. 

The music theatre world is competitive, squeezed by amateur shows who offer audiences a bargain in ticket prices and swallow up the well known musicals, and big budget inner city shows who offer everything for a price. This production of XANADU locates itself right in the middle. It would be brave (yet authentic) to do a new or lesser known musical, and the history of new Australian musical production is sadly checkered. 

I remain unsure why this musical was chosen. No matter how well it is done, many will not like it, or go, not least because of its bad cinemagraphic reputation, and despite some very pleasant songs. If an established musical was sought, why not a lesser known work with soul and authenticity – ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ comes to mind, but I am sure there are many others.          

Lacinda is to be supported in her efforts with follow up shows, and for the efficiency, focus, professionalism, and artistic quality evident in this production.