Love on roller skates


Art conquers all in The Dayton Playhouse production of Xanadu

By Tim Smith

Photo: Ellie Krug as Clio and (bottom, l-r) David Shough as Danny McGuire and Desmond Thomas as Sonny Malone in Dayton Playhouse’s Xanadu; photo: Art Fabian Photography

Every creative person cites a personal muse as a source of inspiration, be she artist, musician, or writer. The dreamer in most of us would like to believe that we have guardian angels looking over our shoulders while we travel the path from concept to finished product. The current production of Xanadu at The Dayton Playhouse celebrates that idea, set to music and placed on roller skates.

The story follows Clio, a lovely and precocious Greek muse who decides to put on some roller skates, legwarmers, and an Australian accent to help hapless chalk artist Sonny Malone rediscover his own creativity. With both help and hindrance from the other muses—and from a clarinetist-turned-real estate mogul named Danny Maguire—Sonny and Clio work to rebuild their apex of the arts: a roller disco. We’re talking about the 1980s here, so take it in stride.

Xanadu began life as a 1980 musical film starring Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, and Gene Kelly. It was a commercial and critical misfire, except for the music by Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra. In 2007 it was re-imagined for the Broadway stage and was a surprise hit, nominated for several Tony awards. The book was written by Douglas Carter Beane, with music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. In an interesting side note, Xanadu was based on a 1947 Rita Hayworth film called “Down to Earth,” which was a musical remake of an earlier movie, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan.” That film was later remade as “Heaven Can Wait,” starring Warren Beatty. Those muses really got around.

Tina McPhearson directs this production, and she says the selection process for Dayton Playhouse productions can be a lengthy one.

“In the fall of each year, we send out requests to anyone who is interested in directing at the Playhouse and ask that they submit up to six plays or musicals they would like to direct,” she says. “We have an Artistic Committee that convenes and reads all plays and musicals submitted. The Playhouse board then approves the docket of plays and directors and we announce in early March. With Xanadu, we felt that this was a small, fun musical that would bring people out in the cold of winter!”

The Dayton Playhouse has been operating for 58 years as an all-volunteer organization, with most talent coming from the Dayton area. According to McPhearson, the planning and audition process for Xanadu presented some challenges.

“I usually begin putting my production team together as soon as I know what show I am directing,” she says. “That could be as much as nine months before the show opens. As for casting, I looked for actors who were quadruple threats. They needed to act, sing, dance, and roller skate! Fortunately, this is a talented group of individuals who can do it all.”

Seven of the nine actors in the show are Dayton Playhouse veterans. The cast includes Desmond Thomas, Ellie Krug, Amy Askins, Tamar Fishbein, Adee McFarland, Shanna Camacho, John Nussbaum, Richard Waldeck, and David Shough.

“We use local talent most of the time,” McPhearson says. “Some of the most talented people you will meet are right here in the Miami Valley. Occasionally there are actors who come from Cincinnati, and we welcome them, but the majority of our talent is homegrown.”

The musical is actually a spoof of the film, complete with some cultural references that those of us who remember 1980 will appreciate. The dialogue is funny and insightful, and every member of the ensemble delivers his or her lines with appropriate comic timing. The actors also drop in a few unscripted observations, as though throwing a wink at the audience and saying, “Yeah, we know it’s lame, but it’s 1980!”

The show is brought to life by a talented, energetic cast that is clearly having a good time. The score is filled with familiar songs of the era, including “Magic,” “Suddenly,” “Evil Woman,” “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “Don’t Walk Away.” All of the songs are performed enthusiastically, and will have anyone who listened to Top 40 radio during the early ’80s smiling in recognition. Of note is one song from the film score that surprisingly didn’t go anywhere at the time, “Whenever You’re Away from Me.” It’s more of a Big Band-era swing tune, not in keeping with the rest of the score, but thankfully reprised here as a production number.

Musical Director Judy Mansky makes good use of the four-member pit band, evoking the mood and style of the period. The creative choreography of Annette Looper is staged against the multi-functional set designed by Chris Newman. This is the first time I’ve ever watched an entire acting troupe perform an elaborate dance routine on roller skates without falling down. The same cannot be said of the last Ice Capades show I attended, so hats off to the cast for its agility.

The musical is sponsored in part by Marion’s Piazza and Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees.

Give yourself a break from the winter doldrums, put your brain on hold for a couple of hours and enjoy the magic spell cast by Xanadu. You’ll have a great time, and you may even want to take up roller-skating.

Xanadu will run through Feb. 5 at The Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave.  in Dayton. Show times are Friday, Jan. 27 and Feb. 3, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 28 and Feb. 4, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 28 and Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors, students, and military personnel. For tickets and more information, please call 937.424.8477 or visit

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at

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