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Xanadu (1980)

A struggling young artist, a heavenly muse and a sentimental millionaire join forces to open up a roller-disco palace.

Olivia Newton-John plays Kira – the glowing, singing, roller-skating muse who inspires a young artist called Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) to open the roller disco in partnership with clarinet-puffing money-bags Danny McGuire (dancing legend Gene Kelly).

As the grand disco (called ‘Xanadu’ of course) is built, romance ensues between the Muse and the Artist, even though the only thing Kira divulges about herself is that she lives with her sisters “on the second floor”.

Alas, creatures of the heavens can’t love mere mortals, and Kira is transported back up to her depressing heaven home – where there is no roller skating and no Electric Light Orchestra – and her angry father Zeus (Wilfrid Hyde-White).

But Sonny bravely goes after her, roller-skating at high speed straight into a brick wall with a painting of Livy on it. Of course, it’s not a brick wall but a portal to the gaff of the gods.

Thus Wilfrid Hyde-Zeus mocks Sonny in the way only an omnipotent one can and then Olivia has a bit of a sing about needing a miracle and being suspended in time, and pleads that she be allowed to come back for just one night.

Sure enough, Kira is back to grace Xanadu’s opening night. To Sonny’s beguilement, she dances, skates and sings in one of the wildest multiple-personality dance/skate floor shows the 70s have ever seen.

And then the fun continues with a bizarre battle of the bands in which a swanky Glenn Miller-type big band goes up against metal rock group The Tubes. It’s sheer cacophony at first, but then the disparate sounds begin to merge into one big eclectic crescendo – and if you thought there was no thematic substance in this roller skate romp, shame on you.


Xanadu had its origins firmly in the Hollywood musicals of the 1940s. The storyline is ostensibly a modernised version of the 1947 Rita Hayworth film, Down To Earth, and Gene Kelly’s character was called Danny McGuire – the same name he had in Columbia’s Cover Girl in 1944.

Robert Greenwald directed from a screenplay by Richard Christian Danus, Michael Kane and Marc Reid Rubel, and the musical numbers were staged (very well) by Kenny Ortega and Jerry Trent.

The movie contained some splendid songs, primarily from ELO, with some lovely ballads such as Magic (by Olivia Newton-John) and Suddenly (featuring Newton-John in a gorgeous duet with Cliff Richard).

Olivia Newton-John
Danny McGuire

Gene Kelly
Sonny Malone

Michael Beck

James Sloyan

Coral Browne

Wilfrid Hyde-White

Dimitra Arliss

Fred McCarren

Katie Hanley

Ren Woods
Big Al

Melvin Jones

David Tress

Madison Arnold
The Tubes


Robert Greenwald