XANADU Lives Again, in Asbury Park

Alyse Alan Louis and Ralph Meitzler head the cast, when XANADU skates into the stately pleasuredome of Asbury Park’s Carousel House as the season opener for ReVision Theatre.

As a youngster growing up in the Midwest during the late 20th century, David Leidholdt sensed that he was…different from the rest.

Forced to hide who he really was in the halls of high school; adrift and alone in an age before social networks, David dreamed of an escape to a place far away from the acrid smoke of burning hate; a “stately pleasuredome” illuminated with a thousand points of revolving, reflected light — a Xanadu.

Yes, David Leidholdt was a “Disco Boy in Detroit Rock City.” But here in 2011, as one of the producing partners of ReVision Theatre Company, Disco Boy has become the Disco Man — and Disco Man has decreed that Xanadu the musical herald the coming of a new season of entertainments on the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury Park boardwalk, with the Carousel House the pleasuredome of choice.

No doubt you’re familiar, at least vaguely, with Xanadu the 1980 film — a notorious box-office Butterball in which Olivia Newton-John essayed the part of Kira, a mythological Muse (daughter of Greek deity Zeus) who comes down to Carter-administration Earth to help a young artist achieve his life’s dream — opening a roller disco.

Suffice to say that the film pretty much arrested any movie momentum the Aussie songbird had generated with Grease — in addition to chasing the director back to the realm of political documentaries, putting the final nail in the celluloid coffin of Gene Kelly, and strangling the leading man’s career cold in the cradle. What the film did have going for it was a bonafide hit score of candylicious pop songs (by Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra fame) — as well as a small but exponentially snowballing base of fans for whom Xanadu was the stuff of inspiration.

Those songs and that fanbase laid the foundation for the 2007 stage musical, a campy confection that added a bad-Muse subplot and fortified the soundtrack with songs made previously famous by ELO (“Evil Woman,” “Strange Magic”) and ON-J (“Have You Never Been Mellow”). Beginning Thursday, July 7, the show makes its New Jersey premiere inside the rococo roundhouse of the Carousel, with the quad skates hitting the stage of a building that once did duty as an indoor skate park and punk rock hall.

Of course, in Asbury Park the name Xanadu carries echoes of the long-defunct circuit dance club Club Xanadu that occupied the corner of Second and Kingsley for most of the 1980s — and for folks all over NJ, the once-proud name of Kubla Khan‘s summer palace has come back to bite us in the form of that on again/ off again Mall-of-America monstrosity at the side of the Turnpike.

Leidholdt directs an Equity cast that includes Ralph Meitzler (Broadway’s Rock of Ages), Lindsay Nicole Chambers (B’way’s Legally Blond and Hairspray) Alyse Alan Louis (Mamma Mia!), Thay Floyd, Bernard Dotson (Finian’s Rainbow, Ragtime) and Billy Lewis (Spring Awakening national tour). The director found some moments to talk with us during that first, slip-and-slide week of rehearsals; flip the pixelated page for more.

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ARCHIVE: The Kingdom and the Power

DownloadedFile (First published on Red Bank oRBit April 16, 2009)

When we first met up with the ReVision Theatre Company last year in oRBit, the newly established professional stage company in Asbury Park was in the process of transforming the seaside albatross Carousel building into a viable venue for live performance (for last summer’s successful run of Hair), while setting up offices, workshop and rehearsal space inside the city’s venerable VFW Post 1333 on 701 Lake Avenue at Bond Street.

When we looked in on them back in December, ReVision’s triad of Producing Artistic Directors (Thomas MorrisseyDavid Leidholdt and Stephen Bishop Seely) had turned the VFW’s amply scaled Bingo hall into a working playhouse for Scrooge in Rouge, a colorfully daffy parody of a vintage English music-hall barnstormer.

ReVision returns for anther go-round at the Carousel this August with The Full Monty, and in July they’ll spotlight Steven Brinberg’s uncanny Streisand portrayal in a benefit performance of Funny Girl, the show that catapulted Babs to stardom. But one production here in ReVision’s first full season sticks out against the otherwise light and lively slate of offerings — and that’s Kingdom.

Described as a “Latin Hip Hop musical” study of two friends from the barrio whose need to belong — in this case, to the Nation of the Latin Kings — tears them apart, the show by Aaron Jafferis and Ian Williams previews this Thursday at 8pm, opens this Friday, April 17 and runs through May 3 at the VFW Theatre.

This is an East Coast premiere of a work that’s only recently been fully staged in San Diego — and the cast is headed up by two veterans of the California production,Christian Amaraut and Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, whose respective roles as Juan and Andres saw their origins in true stories of current and former Latin Kings. Carlos Armesto directs an all-Latino cast that further features Dell Howlett (Cano),Desiree Rodriguez (Marisa), Keith Antone (Hector), Jose Candleria(Danny), Erikamarie Rumore (Queen 1), Judah Gavra (King 2), and Chelsea Zeno(Queen 2). Andre Da Silva replaced David Del Rio as King 1 when Del Rio was cast in a Nickelodeon TV series.

It’s a bold move for the ReVisionaries, with both an unknown quantity of a show and a subject matter that most communities would rather sweep under the sidewalk if they could. ReVision, however, took the opposite tack; hosting a Kingdom Kick-Off Party on March 6 that introduced and explained the show to the public, as well as a Kingdom Exploration Symposium on March 19, in which the show’s cast and crew joined a panel of gang experts in discussing the presence of gangs in Monmouth County, and the ways in which parents, teachers and community leaders can take action to prevent gang violence. Audiences are also being invited to take part in after-show forums that follow each performance.

After the jump, Red Bank oRBit speaks with director Armesto on the hows and whys of this much-anticipated show.

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