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CHS brings electricity to ‘Xanadu’

For the first time in 33 years, Claremont High School Theater Director Krista Elhai has had to cancel a performance.

People who purchased tickets to see Xanadu this Saturday were informed Wednesday the night’s production was a no-go because of a major logistical problem. As part of the high school’s solar installation project, the electricity will be turned off Saturday morning and there’s no guarantee the power will be back on in time for the 7:30 p.m. curtain time.

As they say in the theater world, the show must go on. Ms. Elhai and her talented crew of students and professionals have acted quickly to add another performance to the musical’s run. After the 7:30 p.m. show wraps on Friday, March 3, the kids will pull up their legwarmers for an additional 10 p.m. performance. The extra gig will keep the theater department from disappointing folks who bought tickets for the cancelled show and avoid a devastating loss of proceeds.

Doubling up on the dance-heavy show will take a can-do attitude on the part of the students. Luckily, the teenage thespians have the kind of energy needed to evoke the neon-bright ‘80s twice in one night.

For those unfamiliar with the Broadway musical Xanadu, we need to address the elephant in the room. The original film was a box-office flop and is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made. About the only thing inspired by the story of a muse who accidentally falls in love with a mortal was the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards.

And yet, Xanadu refused to go away. The soundtrack is the result of some powerhouse talent, featuring hits by ELO, The Tubes and Olivia-Newton John, among others. Many who saw the film as children were entranced by the movie and for many latecomers, the paper-thin script carries its own watching-a-trainwreck magnetism. The film has gradually acquired cult status.

 

Douglas Carter then did such a good job beefing up the plot and injecting much-needed humor that his stage adaptation of Xanadu won an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Drama Desk Award for Best Book and was nominated for two Tony Awards. Theatregoers were won too; after its 2007 Broadway debut, the show ran for more than 500 performances.

 

Xanadu comes to Claremont

When Ms. Elhai decided to add Xanadu to the theater department’s 2016-2017 season, one question loomed large. How do you get a bunch of teenagers, raised on mp3s instead of vinyl and cell phones instead of payphones, to embody the 1980s? When it comes to Xanadu, it starts with roller skates.

Almost from the moment CHS senior Carly Sanden was cast in the roll of the muse Kira, the youngest of Zeus’ nine daughters, she was handed a pair of rollerskates—and we’re not talking rollerblades but old-school quads.

Junior Riley Polanski who plays Sonny, a disillusioned painter Kira seeks to inspire, also takes to wheels during a few key moments. Adding to the ambience is a crayon-bright wardrobe that is 50 percent disco, 50 percent New Wave and 100 percent fun.

The pair portrayed a couple before, Emily and George in the classic drama Our Town. “They play really well off each other,” Ms. Elhai said. Xanadu has the advantage of offering the duo an opportunity to show off their significant singing chops.

Carly Sanden, whose red hair is covered with a blonde wig for the show, is a talented vocalist who fronts the local rock band Event Horizon. Last year, she was ranked among the top one percent of solo vocalists at the California State Thespian Festival. She recently was accepted into NYU’s competitive musical theater program.

Riley’s octave-straddling tenor serves him well when he undertakes tunes like the love song “Suddenly,” originally tackled by platinum-selling singer Cliff Richard.

Another student performer who can belt it out is Sarah Hamid as the muse Melpomene, who uses the ELO song “Evil Woman” to describe her villainy. She and Reel Eltahir (“Calliope”) play Zeus’ two oldest daughters, who plot to make Kira fall in love with her earthly protégée, a misstep that carries a death sentence in the realm of the gods. The girls are a fine comic duo as they deliver some of the show’s funniest quips.

Among the professionals working on the show are Daniel Smith, working as director, and choreographer Paige Melvin. Ms. Elhai’s grown daughter Dylan Elhai is serving as lighting designer.

Ms. Melvin said she’s had a blast working on Xanadu. “It’s the time period. I’ve never choreographed in the ‘80s style,” she said.

She’s also never choreographed movement and dance for roller skates and, in fact, was a roller skating novice before the show. Now, she’s addicted to wheeling around. “I’m probably going to ask Krista if I can buy them from her,” she said of her practice quads.

Ms. Melvin marvels at the kids’ adaptability, whether perfecting the art of roller skating or channeling an era long gone and, some would say, best forgotten.

“I tell them to do anything and they really believe,” she said, an attitude perfect for a musical whose central song enjoins listeners to “believe we are magic.”

Xanadu will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 24, Thursday, March 2, Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4 as well as at 10 p.m. on Friday, March 3 in the Don F. Fruechte Theatre at Claremont High School. Tickets are available online at the CHS ASB webstore for $10. Tickets will also be sold at the door for $12 if available. Presale is strongly recommended.

For information, visit chstheatre.cusd.claremont.edu or call the CHS Theatre at (909) 624-9053 ext.30463.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com