"Xanadu" Gains Fanatic Followers

Jackie Hoffman, right, Mary Testa, left, and Kerry Butler perform during a "Xanadu" dress rehearsal in New York on May 22, 2007. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) CBS

Brandon Purves is the kind of guy producers of "Xanadu" only dreamed about.

He liked the Broadway musical so much the first time that he saw it again and again and again. He's seen it a mind-boggling 86 times and counting.

"It's nice to have an hour and a half to just laugh and not worry about everything else that's going on," says Purves, who works in fundraising for the Roundabout Theatre Company.

What makes his marathon even more unusual is that "Xanadu" has nothing to do with the Roundabout, which is instead staging "Pygmalion," "The Ritz" and "The Overwhelming."

That begs a question: Has he watched anything by his employers that many times? "Absolutely not," he says, laughing. "I can't see myself at 'Pygmalion' 86 times."

2Purves, 28, is one of a legion of die-hard "Xanadu" fans who have fueled both excitement and ticket sales for a musical few thought would be a hit.

Swept away by the show's upbeat spirit, devotees will line up at the box office to get tickets for another viewing moments after the curtain has come down. They'll wait to chat with the performers, organize group evenings and swap photos and stories in a burgeoning online community.

"Xanadu" fans fly in from as far away as California. One married couple is so smitten that they've seen it more than 70 times between them. Some repeat customers get on-stage high-fives from the actors.

"It's infectious," says Jeffrey Suna, 52, a five-time watcher who works at a stock brokerage in New York City. "I sit there with a smile on my face from beginning to end."

Such a reaction wasn't always expected when the show debuted this summer. Many feared it would be mocked like the film on which it was based, the 1980 roller-disco flick with Olivia Newton-John as an ancient Greek muse who lands in modern California and grooves to Electric Light Orchestra songs like "Magic" and "I'm Alive."

But critics embraced the satirical script and stars Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson, Tony Roberts, Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman. Even after roller-skating injuries took out key performers, the show kept packing them in.

Fans, who've nicknamed themselves "Fanadus" or "The 'Du Crew," give multiple reasons for their affection: an uplifting script, a built-in movie fan base, familiar songs, the warmth of the actors and a small, intimate theater that lets audience members sit on stage for as little as $41, glow sticks included. Recently, 12 people dressed as ancient Greeks plopped down in the on-stage section, further blurring the line between audience and actors.

"The house manager said he's never worked on a show where he's had to tell people not to hold up cardboard signs," says Douglas Carter Beane, the show's playwright. "It's become this party that people come to."

Some celebrities also have gotten into the act. Isaac Mizrahi and Whoopi Goldberg both have attended shows, and Michael Kors' spring collection included a glittery pink dress introduced on the runway to the soundtrack of "Xanadu."

One of the first to fall in love with the show was Rob Tursi, 26, who was born the same year the film came out and calls it the "most ridiculous movie I have ever watched in my entire life." When he read in January about plans to bring an adaptation to Broadway, he knew he had to go.

"I nearly lost my mind," says Tursi, who works in real estate and has seen "Xanadu" 14 times. "I e-mailed everybody I've ever met. I was like, 'We have to go see this when it comes out. It's going to be insane."'

He and a friend caught one of the very first performances, stopping beforehand for a fortifying cocktail in case it was a disaster. "It was really an unbelievable show. I was like, 'We have to come back again, and sober,"' he says, laughing.

Tursi posted a flattering video review for a friend in California and, before he knew it, comments from across the country pored in. The actors even wrote to thank him for his support. "The cast is probably the warmest and the nicest cast that I've ever met on Broadway," he says. "That's the main reason why I think a lot of people have gone back."

When Tursi goes to the show now, the actors greet him under their breath on stage and he gets high-fives when they exit.

Brian Rubin, who does public relations for video games in Los Angeles, was converted during a Memorial Day weekend visit to New York. He caught the show that Friday and was lining up to see it again on Saturday and Sunday.

He's now seen now it a total of 25 times, not bad for someone who lives on the opposite coast.

"Having seen all the shows that I've seen in my life, it's one of the very few that I've become this fanatic about," says Rubin, 34. "It doesn't feel mass produced. It doesn't feel like every performance is the same." He recently attended a charity auction and won a bandanna and a pair of jean shorts worn by Jackson in the musical.

While other shows such as "Rent," "Wicked" and "Legally Blonde" have sparked their share of squealing fans, Fanadus seem to skew older and more professional, and includes many people who are veteran theater-goers.

"Most shows get fans, but the Fanadus seem to be oddly functioning human beings," says Bean, the playwright. "They're actually not crazy nuts. They're people who have lives."

One couple who has worked "Xanadu" into their busy lives is Andrew and Mei Francese of Brooklyn. While in line recently to see his 41st performance, Andrew, 40, an insurance underwriter, explained that he and his wife switch off attending shows so that whoever isn't at the theater can spend quality time with their 18-month-old daughter, who is, naturally, a "Xana-Baby."

"It's worked out so great because we have such stressful jobs that it's a break for her when she's here and it's a break for me when I'm here," he says. His wife, an office manager, has seen it 31 times.

The couple has even channeled their addiction into a means of helping others. They bought 16 on-stage seats for a performance on Halloween night and resold them to Fanadus, with all proceeds going to help Darfur refugees. Buyers also get T-shirts signed by the entire cast, wrist bands and Fresca.

Michael Lever, a three-time watcher from Van Nuys, Calif., thinks he knows why "Xanadu" has generated such devotion. Lever, 45, who works in TV marketing, says the show just feels right. "It has to have heart," says Lever. "You can have the right cast, a good writer, great songs, but the show has to take you somewhere, make you feel something. This does."
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