Original Broadway Cast

Xanadu [Original Broadway Cast Recording]

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Xanadu, the poorly received 1980 movie musical that was a remake of the 1947 movie musical Down to Earth (itself part of a long tradition of goddess-meets-modern-mortals stories that includes such Broadway musicals-turned-movies as I Married an Angel and One Touch of Venus), remains memorable for only one thing: its soundtrack. The album that accompanied the film sold two million copies and spawned five Top 40 hits for hapless star Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra. (The songwriting was split between Newton-John's personal composer John Farrar and ELO's Jeff Lynne.) Bad as the movie may have been, the music probably was what made it seem a bankable prospect for stage adaptation, especially considering that among the four songs interpolated into the score are three more old ELO and Newton-John hits, "Evil Woman," "Strange Magic," and "Have You Never Been Mellow." The producers of the show seem to have been aiming at the approach that made Mamma Mia! a hit, that sort of guilty pleasure aspect of people's helpless enjoyment of the pop music of their adolescence, mixed with a bit of the send-up quality of, say, The Rocky Horror Show. But it's hard to keep your tongue in your cheek for more than two hours. On disc, the original Broadway cast recording is not much more or less than a bunch of thinly recorded versions of songs that were, whatever their merits, lushly recorded in their hit renditions. This, of course, is very much unlike Mamma Mia!, which was quite reverent about its ABBA songs. In fact, much of the time, the cast seems to be sneering at the musical material, particularly Kerry Butler, who takes the Newton-John part and performs it as a savage parody. Even people who never liked Olivia Newton-John may discover an unsuspected sympathy for her after enduring Butler's attack. But then, maybe the whole thing would have been better if it had gone even further into the realm of satire. By far the best part of the album is the laugh-out-loud synopsis in the CD booklet written by playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who also wrote the musical's book. Beane captures the challenge of putting this show up against the Broadway competition from a theater insider's perspective. After one convoluted explanation of stage action, he writes, "You're not going to see a plot complication like that in Spring Awakening." Indeed not. If only "Xanadu on Broadway," as the album cover calls it, were more spoof and less smirk. And if only they'd spent a little more time and money on arrangements and production. (How can Jeff Lynne have allowed them to do this to his music? Is it so expensive to live in that mansion in L.A. that he feels constrained to just accept his royalty checks and keep his mouth shut?)

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