Some successful cultural phenomena defy mortal understanding. One of them is the Broadway genre known as the jukebox musical, one that has turned the catalogues of pop artists or soundtracks from familiar films into excuses for shows — expensive-to-attend shows. With the exception of the GrandABBA of them all, Mamma Mia, Stephanie and I have avoided these with plaguelike precision. Until Sunday afternoon.
Having timed our way into hella discounted third-row tickets, we rolled the dice on Xanadu, a musical based mostly on the 1980 Olivia Newton-John vehicle of the same name, with a few extra ON-J and ELO chestnuts (a very music critic-y word) thrown in. About three notes into the very first resuscitated number, Electric Light Orchestra's “I'm Alive,” I couldn't help but think:
They made a musical out of this? They made a musical out of bleeping Xanadu? They made a musical out of perhaps the worst movie ever?
That they did. And with up-close seats that cost no more than some of your ritzier Gold, even Silver dates at Shea, I am compelled to report that Xanadu lived up to its surprisingly glowing notices. It moved fast, it was totally aware of itself (who would have thought roller disco could be so tolerable and leg warmers such a plot point?) and it starred the delightful Kerry Butler, whose performance as “checkerboard chick” Penny Pingleton charmed us so in Hairspray five years ago. The show was as fluid as the film was torpid.
I'm predisposed to like anything that features a Top 500 smash, which Xanadu most certainly did, specifically the No. 270 song of all-time, Olivia Newton-John's “Magic”. It was my anthem for June and July and August of 1980, perfectly synced to those “Magic Is Back” Mets, continuing to echo in what's left of the mind I had when I was 17. I couldn't hear it Sunday without thinking of Steve Henderson and Allen Ripley and all that hope I invested in the Torreadors of 27 summers ago. My musings usually drift to baseball during stage productions (or anytime I'm in an audience), so having a legitimate shove like “come take my hand…” was all the more appreciated.
I mentioned it was a fast-moving show. It started at 3:00. It was over by 4:30. Just long enough to give us our money's worth, just quick enough to get us out onto 44th Street in the second inning. You have to believe I switched the FAN on. Nothing could stand in my way.
Through dinner at the dependable Westway Diner on Ninth Ave., through the 10-block walk south to Penn Station, most of the trip home on the 6:04…everything stood in our way. Rafael Furcal…Nomar Garciaparra…that annoying Eric Stults from last September…the first seven innings sounded decidedly unmagical. I was beginning to really resent Xanadu for being set in and around Los Angeles.
But then! All over the world, gotta tell you what I just heard…
• The top of the eighth, somewhere east of Valley Stream: A Reyes double, a Milledge grounder, a Beltran fly ball. Dodgers 4 Mets 3.
• The top of the ninth, driving home from the station: infield single, wild pitch, helpful grounder, rightfield error. Dodgers 4 Mets 4.
• The top of the tenth, on the well-worn couch: Milledge and Beltran with the base hits, Wright with the beatout of the double play and the muse-assisted Chip Ambres finds a hole. Mets 5 Dodgers 4.
• The bottom of the tenth, edging from our seats: Billy Wagner, not without bumps (nor as smoothly as Heilman and Feliciano), strikes out three dangerous Dodgers. The Mets hang on to something it didn't seem they would have at all.
And now, open your eyes and see, what we have made is real. We are in Xanadu.
Well, we're in first place, still, even after the turbulence of one too many West Coast flights. We're in first place, still, no matter how many pebbles have accumulated in our shoes. We're in first place, still, despite having played few eighth, ninth and tenth innings as transcendent as the three final frames we gutted out Sunday afternoon.
Should these Mets use this 4-3 road trip, this 7-4 stretch since the break, as a launching pad for further momentum, to build a more impenetrable divisional margin, to ride to another Eastern title, to ascend Mount Olympus as planned but pre-empted a year ago, then this game was totally magic — the Chip Ambres Game, we'll call it; he walks in and suddenly he's a hero.
And if this was just one isolated sparkly Hollywood win and it's back to wallowing in muddy waters on the shores of Flushing Bay against the Bucs and Nats, so what? It was still a helluva win. We're alive and the world shines for us today.