Put up a roller disco, love someone and create art—said in one breath, you’ll dismiss the thought as silly; but who has not, at least once in their life, taken a silly thought seriously?
Artist Sonny Malone, extremely dissatisfied with his chalk mural in Los Angeles, decides to commit suicide. Upon seeing him, the Greek muse Clio talks her sisters into helping Sonny out of his artistic depression. It is against Zeus’s rules for demigods to reveal who they are to mortals, so Clio descends to Earth and blends in with the humans by naming herself Kira, sporting an Australian accent and going about in roller skates.
Clio successfully turns Sonny’s disposition around and Sonny is now determined to pursue his greatest dream: combine all the arts and add something athletic. He will build a roller disco. They find Xanadu, an abandoned theater owned by Danny Maguire who is a former musician and now a grumpy tycoon who can’t be convinced to sell the building for the arts.
Clio then aids Sonny in acquiring the theater and fulfilling his dream. In the process, the demigod falls in love with the mortal—another transgression against the laws of Zeus.
If the foregoing plot points seem a bit out-there, it’s probably because they are. At the heart of the musical Xanadu (book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar) is the disillusioned artist who trades his life and art for death—whether by suicide or by submission to the more useful pursuit. The theme is so trite that one way to deal with it is by making fun of it, which is what the musical does. It pokes fun at the movie musical flop of the same title starring Olivia Newton-John and the time’s cultural faults (“The muses are in retreat. Creativity shall remain stymied for decades. The theater? They’ll just take some stinkeroo movie or some songwriter’s catalog, throw it on stage and call it a show”). It pokes fun at love (“Oh there are many reasons why mortals fall in love. For some, it is lust. For others, it is companionship. For a few in the San Fernando Valley, it is simply because the other one has air conditioning. But we shall make them fall in love in the most lethal way. We shall make them complete one another”). It also pokes fun at itself (“This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people!”).