The 1980 movie musical "Xanadu," starring Olivia Newton-John, is often regarded as one of the single worst movies of all time…ever… in history. And that's being generous.
So what do you do with a work so horridly wretched? You take it to Broadway!
It takes a courageous (or confused) person to put together a stage version of "Xanadu," and producer Robert Ahrens is just that person. "[It takes] someone who isn't afraid of other people questioning them," said Ahrens, who has set out to give the musical some credibility.
The zillion dollar question for Ahrens, the 37-year-old whose dream it is to bring Xanadu to Broadway, is, why?
"Why? Why not," said Ahrens. "I think it is a fun show and I wanted to do something that would be 90 minutes of enjoyment. It's actually 90 minutes of intelligent enjoyment."
That would be an upset victory, considering the play keeps the basic plot used in the movie: A muse descends from heaven and inspires an artist to build a disco. And, of course, everyone roller skates.
A 'Resume Stopper'?
To get the plot to somehow work on stage, Ahrens brought in a Tony-nominated playwright, Douglass Carter Beane, to make the whole thing…better.
Despite his current devotion to "Xanadu," Beane reluctantly admits it wasn't always his favorite musical. "I'm telling you because it's 'Nightline,'" he said. "I can't lie. It's perjury, it's a sin. I do recall that my friend, when I would go to his pool at his house, whenever the song 'Xanadu' would come on, I would pay his younger brother a quarter to go turn the radio off. I was not a huge fan."
And when Beane first announced his plans to revive the musical, friends, family and colleagues were perplexed.
"My partner said, 'That sounds like a resume stopper,'" he said. "Another friend of mine said, 'Do you want to keep working in this business we call show?'"
But Beane did have one big thing going for him. "The bar was set so low that if I just did anything halfway decent, I was Pulitzer-eligible."
And he took advantage of the other thing he had going for him: the music. As horrendous as the film was, the soundtrack was quite popular. Olivia Newton-John had several breakout hits, including the title track, "Magic" and "I'm Alive."
Putting the 'Do' Back Into 'Xanadu'
Actress Kerry Butler now gets to sing those classics in the Broadway version. "I loved Olivia Newton-John growing up, she was my idol," she said.
"I used to try and sing like her all the time," Butler continued. "I first saw 'Grease,' loved her, and I used to do shows in my backyard to 'Let's Get Physical.' Remember that one?"
Butler seems to channel Newton-John, with her breathy singing and her little stylizations. And there's the Australian accent.
It is all part of what drives the stage version of "Xanadu." It's making fun of the movie, it's making fun of the '80s, it's making fun of Broadway, and it's making fun of itself.
And in the audience, you laugh. Not because it is artistic genius -- "I don't think people come expecting Shakespeare," said Butler -- but because it is funny. And, of course, they are on roller skates.
So even if it isn't Shakespeare, maybe this production can put the "do" back in "Xanadu." They certainly can't make it any worse.