‘Xanadu’ a roller skating, disco ball-spinning ride back to 1980

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Jim DeSelm (Sonny) and Landree Fleming (Kira) in American Theater Company’s production of “Xanadu."| Photo by Michael Brosilow.

You’ve got to hand it to writer Douglas Carter Beane, who penned the book for “Xanadu,” the 2007 Broadway musical. Not only did he draw on the goofy 1980 screenplay by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel, but he also pumped up the Greek mythology references, borrowed a related idea from the 1984 film, “Clash of the Titans,” and worked in a send-up of Andrew Lloyd Webber. On the down side, Beane also turned up the campiness meter to high, no doubt his way of emphasizing the rather mournful level of culture of that particular era (complete with Etch A Sketch drawing and a leg-warmer craze in fashion), while at the same time celebrating it all.

‘XANADU’ Recommended When: Through July 17 Where: American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Tickets: $48 – $58 Info: www.atcweb.org Run time: 105 minutes, with no intermission

But credit the man with wit and self-awareness. He even offered a spot-on assessment of what he had wrought (and I quote it verbatim from the show): “It’s like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people.”

And so it is, although once things calm down a bit in director Lili-Anne Brown’s sometimes shrill and overly revved-up revival of the show for the American Theater Company, it begins to reveal its essential charm. For beyond the fact that most of the cast moves confidently around set designer Arnel Sancianco’s cleverly rink-shaped performance space while they simultaneously roller skate and sing up a storm, there is the enchanting presence of Landree Fleming.

In fact, most of the charm offensive in this production emanates from Fleming, an enchanting, wildly talented actress, singer, dancer and skater as well as an effortless comedian who might best be described as a cross between Judy Holliday and Madeline Kahn. And this is true whether she is playing Clio, one of the nine Greek muses, who falls in love with Sonny Malone, the artistically tuned slacker who lives in Venice, Calif. (played by Jim DeSelm, who does a fine job of suggesting a sweet, hunky moron); or Clio’s earthly alter ego, Kira, an Australian girl; or the big band singer from decades earlier who served as a muse for another man. Fleming moves seamlessly, shifts stylishly from jazz to pop, and is a model of high-energy and natural understatement. (Note to Remy Bumppo Theatre: If you haven’t yet cast next season’s production of “Born Yesterday,” Fleming would be a natural for the role of Billie Dawn.)

Karla L. Beard (Melpomene, from left front), Landree Fleming (Kira) and Missy Aguilar (Calliope) in American Theater Company’s production of “Xanadu.” | Photo by Michael Brosilow

Karla L. Beard (Melpomene, from left front), Landree Fleming (Kira) and Missy Aguilar (Calliope) in American Theater Company’s production of “Xanadu.” | Photo by Michael Brosilow

For those outside the “Xanadu” story loop, it unfolds like this: When Sonny despairs over his latest wall mural, Clio, the youngest of the Muses on Mt. Olympus, springs into action, backed by six of her sisters (two of them men in drag). The remaining two sisters — Melpomene (Karla L. Beard), and Calliope (Missy Aguilar), are jealous that their “father,” Zeus (a very “high” and funky Aaron Holland) promised the mysterious “Xanadu” to Clio, although no one is quite sure what that means. Nevertheless, they conspire to curse her by having her fall in love with the mortal, Sonny — a major taboo, along with the prohibition to actually create, rather than just inspire a work of art — and thereby force Zeus to punish her.

Before all that, however, inspiration strikes Sonny as he spots a long-abandoned theater in a neighborhood of Los Angeles that just happens to be called “Xanadu,” and he envisions it being transformed into a roller disco and multimedia arts center. Clio (in the guise of Kira), urges him to meet with its owner, real estate mogul Danny Maguire (expertly played by Holland), who was a big band musician in his youth, but abandoned art for money. A flashback to those days convinces him to strike a deal with Sonny.

There is more — most of it about how the two lovers are tested, torn apart and ultimately reunited (what else?). Along the way there also are the instantly smile-inducing hit songs from the period, including those by Jeff Lynne, of Electric Light Orchestra fame (“All Over the World,” “The Fall,” “I’m Alive,” “Evil Woman,””Don’t Walk Away,” “Strange Magic” and the title song), and by Aussie John Farrar (“Magic,” “Suddenly,” “Dancin’,” “Suspended in Time,” “Whenever You’re Away from Me,” “Fool,” and “Have You Never Been Mellow” (converted to a stoner classic here).

Among the ensemble, the standouts are two excellent skater-dancers — Hanah Rose Nardone (as Euterpe) and Daniel Spagnuolo (as a tap-dancing Thalia)  —  with James Nedrud as Terpsichore and Kasey Alfonso as Erato.

“Xanadu” is the final production of what American Theater Company dubbed The Legacy Season — a tribute to its late artistic director, PJ Paparelli, who died in an accident last year and was a big fan of the show. Of course Paparelli needed no one to explain what we learn Xanadu actually means: “True love and the ability to create and share art.”

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