The Garden Theater
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music and Lyrics Jeff Lynne and Jahn Farrar
Directed by Rob Winn Anderson
Musical Directions by Jason Whitehead
Starring Brittany Santoro and Brett McMahon
Winter Garden, FL
Welcome to “Children’s Theater for 40-Year-Old Gay People.” That’s right there in the book, and I couldn’t agree more. Welcome to a bright, flashy and fun production about Greek gods, falling in love, and Roller Disco. That’s the part we’ll laugh nervously about, then change the subject. Loosely based on the film of the same name, this story follows the adventures of street artist Sonny (McMahon) and the Goddess and Muse Clio (Santoro). She’s the goddess of art and she’s down here to inspire Sonny to create great art. Now, she aimed for Venice, Italy in 1780 but winds up in Venice Beach in 1980. That’s sort of the same thing, if you squint just right. She operates under three rules – she can’t make art, she can’t fall in love with a mortal, and can’t reveal she’s a goddess. You can guess the plot from that, and she’s accompanied by some other goddesses’ intent on getting her in trouble. Her tormenters are Melpomene (Amy Sue Hardy) and Calliope (Hanna McGinley Lemasters), goddesses of tragedy and epic poetry out to sabotage Clio. On earth, Sonny looks for a place to open a roller disco and tries to get a sweet lease deal out of the cheap Danny Maguire (Ron Miles). Maguire resists, then remembers his own love lie, and now it’s time for a blowout ending.
That’s the long version, the short version goes like this: McMahon looks goofy cute and does some great physical comedy. And Ms. Santoro looks good in leg warmers and can hit her high notes. Hardy pushes all her gags up and over the top while Mr. Miles works well as both the disillusioned businessman and the malleable God Zeus. I can see how they relate. The songs bring back the plastic nostalgia of the disco era. “Have You Ever Been Mellow?” and “Evil Woman” and most of the soundtrack came from the Electric Light Orchestra, a band you should have heard of. The set towers over the action and when the sparkly gold “Xanadu” sign drops from above, we are helpfully told “That sign is just a sign.” I’m still working on that one; perhaps there’s something deep there but it’s not clear exactly what. We see some “adult situations” and language, but mostly this is a fun, nostalgic evening for us veterans of the Polyester Wars, and perhaps a message to today’s youth that we still can, indeed, roller boogey when we have to.