Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Monday, September 20, 2010

ELO, Powh!

I watched with a bit of trepidation the stage musical Xanadu. Why the hesitation, despite knowing that the stage musical was nominated for several Tony Awards, including best musical and best book? It’s something personal, really.

You see, for the longest time, I’ve been a fan of the British rock group, Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO. This Beatles-influenced group, headed by lead singer and chief songwriter Jeff Lynne, used classical instruments (sometimes a full orchestra) in a pop song. I knew only of one other guy who was heavily into ELO, and we became best friends partly due to the unique bonding we had over the group’s music.

I bought the long-playing vinyl record of the Xanadu movie soundtrack featuring songs by Olivia Newton-John and ELO back when the movie first opened in the early 80s. While I was also a fan of ONJ and liked the songs “Magic” and “Suddenly,” I played side B more often because that was where all the ELO songs were. And I loved all of their songs.

I remember watching the movie and hating it, despite the presence of the ELO songs. I remember thinking that the ELO songs sounded like they were just haphazardly patched into the movie.

So how did the stage musical fare?

It’s fun and frothy, with just the right amount of self-aware winking at the audience to make it campy without being too over-the-top. However, because it’s set in the 80s, I felt that some of the reflexive jokes would be lost to a younger audience. Xanadu: The Musical seems tailor-made to those who grew up with Debbie Gibson, Spraynet and shoulder pads. The book also poked fun at its origin, the movie that derailed Olivia Newton-John’s movie career, nominated for a Razzie as the Worst Movie for 1980 and won a Razzie for Worst Director. Sadly though, the self-referential jokes also were lost among many in the crowd, not just the youngsters. Why? Because only a few Pinoys were familiar with the original movie; even I got to see it only once on Betamax.

Amazingly the ELO songs, with no major changes in the lyrics, now sound like they make more sense vis-à-vis the story (no wonder it won Best Book). The stage musical borrowed two other ELO songs that were not on the movie soundtrack (“Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic”) and one song from ONJ’s discography (“Have You Never Been Mellow”). The use of these additional songs had its own campy appeal that, again, was lost to those who didn’t know that they were extra add-ons.

All in all, the local production of Xanadu: The Musical was a hearty, happy endeavor that entertained generously. Felix Rivera and Rachel Alejandro deliver solid performances, while Noel Trinidad is a most pleasant surprise.

Xanadu was from the poem “Kubla Khan, or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, inspired by an opium-induced dream but was never completed because Coleridge was interrupted as he was writing it down upon waking up. Similar to its origin, this short, lightweight musical evaporates the moment you step out of the theater.


rudeboy said...

Ahaha ang bagal ko. Didn't get the ELO reference in the post title until after I read the whole post eheheh.

Still - I, too, share your love for ELO, Joel. Back in the early 80s, I thought their music was...surreal, the kind one would hear in a dream. A dream...that came through a million years. That lived on through all the tears.

It came to Xanadu ooooh.

joelmcvie said...

@RUDEBOY: OMG, ELO fan ka rin?! Wow, that makes three of us. And apparently Adam Sandler as well (he used ELO songs in the soundtrack of his movies).