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          Roller-rink musical Xanadu brings disco and inferno

          Drew Scheeler

          Issue date: 3/5/10 Section: Focus
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          Kitschy musical Xanadu takes a legendarily bad 1980s roller disco movie and amps up the cheese with roller skate choreography and additional music from ELO.
          Kitschy musical Xanadu takes a legendarily bad 1980s roller disco movie and amps up the cheese with roller skate choreography and additional music from ELO.
          [Click to enlarge]
          As poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, "In Xanadu did Kublai Khan/a stately pleasure-dome decree." In Xanadu at Playhouse Square, a lot of things get maimed. Greek mythology, traditional joke structures, and the 1980s are the victims of a fun, cheese-tastic spoof of one of cinema's greatest train wrecks. The reputation of Xanadu the movie is legendary: it killed disco dancing and Olivia Newton-John's career, among other things. Xanadu is a horrible film and most of the movie is up on YouTube for those brave souls who dare view it. Rest assured that the musical is infinitely better. In musical form, Xanadu is an entertaining, if not entirely enjoyable evening of cheeky pop music and rollerblading beauties.

          The Muses, those Greek demigods of the arts, have descended to Earth through a chalk mural drawn by struggling artist Sonny. Muse Clio is sent to inspire Sonny, but as a Muse she has several rules she must follow. She can't fall in love with him, she isn't allowed to reveal her true self, and she must speak in an Australian accent to impersonate Olivia Newton-John. With Clio's inspiration, Sonny decides to create the ultimate fusion of performance, art, dance, and music which, spoiler alert, is a roller disco named Xanadu.

          Honestly, this musical is so vapid that it makes last season's Legally Blonde: the Musical look like an existentialist play by Tom Stoppard. But, Xanadu does not expect to be taken seriously and that is where its endearing charm lies. The musical loves to flirt with excess; as 50 disco balls in the finale descend to blind the audience and the entire cast skates around the stage, the majority of the audience seemed to be enthralled. After all, as the play's moral goes, life amounts to skating from one disco to another.

          Xanadu's primary issue is that self-depreciation only goes so far for laughs. Most of the cast seems out of rhythm with the comedic timing needed to carry such a show. Max von Essen's Sonny is mostly humorless which, for the lead male in a comedy, is unforgivable. Anika Larsen plays Clio with the right blend of smart and sass, but looking and acting like Olivia Newton-John is not enough to carry a show. For the cynics in the audience, no amount of blinding pink legwarmers and shiny fabric will make up for the show's greater issues.
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