Friday, November 24, 2017
Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
XANADU MUSICAL SHOWS WELL IN SAUGATUCK
Originally Posted: 07-05-2013 7:59 PM
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I’ve never seen the movie Xanadu, but love many of the elements that it combined, such as the music of Olivia Newton-John, ELO, producer/songwriter John Farrar, & The Tubes. I’ve forever proclaimed that John Farrar was a genius, which led me to connect with him a number of times in LA.

It all started with my adoration of Xanadu’s big single, “Magic”, a pop music masterwork. My study of the song’s production, performance and writing started in my early 20s. “Magic” was entirely unusual, and has always had the sound of some unique, otherworldly pop music, befitting Olivia Newton-John’s character Kira, an Olympian Muse, showing up in 1980 to inspire main character Sonny to open a roller disco in an unfinished club scheduled for the wrecking ball. Yes, I said “roller disco”. I guess it was 1980!

Farrar dug deep in creating a repetitive two-chord motif of “D-D7b5” in the intro, verse, and guitar solo. Even years later, I’ve never heard anything else that uses that highly unusual change. For those who aren’t musicians, this type of change is a real frog, usually reserved as a quick passing chord in Jazz, so to stick it out there yet make it as hot as Prince Charming is a real coup and Farrar pulled it off.

Everything about the song is a little out there, in all the best ways. The clean electric guitar sound couldn’t be compressed more if you threw a blood pressure cuff on it, the drums have a 1/16th note slap delay on them, and the vocal has a dark and dirty echo on it which was pretty unheard of in those days, certainly for a certified star female vocalist like Olivia who had just come off the success of Grease.

When I heard that a stage play of Xanadu was appearing at the Saugatuck Center For The Arts, I had to see how it could translate to a live cast. The venue is one of my very favorite venues in Southwest Michigan for it’s intimate size of about 400 seats and its impeccable acoustics—dead and tight. The result is such an incredible soundstage that I almost felt as if the script was recorded. The headset mics worn by the cast projected perfectly from the ceiling speakers, covering over any stage sound, making the clarity of the lines absolutely great.

The pit band was located on the main floor, audience left, which reserved full stage space for the actors. The musicians did a great job with the scores and various sound effects. Two synth players, a guitarist and a live drum kit had it all covered. I felt the guitarist was too far back in the mix at times, and his playing was a little loose, which may have been from not being able to hear well. The drums, though behind plexiglass, were still too loud, really. For future shows, relocating any live kits backstage--or even the entire pit band--could yield a more impactful sound mix.

The Mason Street Warehouse put together a really, really good cast. A little more than half were members of the Actor’s Equity Association and were great choices. Every male and female actor was really attractive and talented, as Olympian muses should be! The female lead got well into the ballpark with Olivia’s singing voice. Her Australian accent missed at times, but could be forgiven due to a otherwise solid performance.

The actor who played Sonny did a good job as well, but played it a bit too campy at times in the first act, such as when Sonny & Kira sing the Olivia/Cliff Richard duet, “Suddenly”. Silliness in the vocal styles detracted from a really, really great song. It would’ve been best to play the music straight and let the very well known song connect with the audience as it was intended—as a part of Xanadu’s storyline--rather than reducing a great musical moment for unnecessary camp. There were plenty of chances for camp later that worked far better.

I felt that the writing of the second half was much looser than the first and it seemed a little more like a free-for-all. All told though, the performance was great and the show is well worth checking out at this great venue through July 14. The theatre offers their traditional July 4th special of buy-one, get-one-free if you care to see the fireworks in Saugatuck after the show, but enjoying the show is definitely not reliant on a “deal” ticket price. Don’t be cheap if you can’t make it on the 4th.

As always, the Saugatuck Center For The Arts brings great quality shows to their stage. If you haven’t seen a show there yet, do yourself a favor and check their schedule at www.sc4a.org and have a pre-show dinner at Pizza Mambo. They make one of the very best thin crust pizzas I’ve found in Southwest Michigan over the last 6 years (they close at 10pm).


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