Xanadu Review – “Most A-muse-ing”

Photo by Act One, Too Ltd.

Back in the ’80s, there was no Legacy Amendment in place to fund creative artists’ aspirations. So how in the heck could Sonny, hero of the musical “Xanadu”—were he in Minnesota instead of la-la land—hope to achieve his dream? Greek gods to the rescue! (Okay, this was back when Greece was not in financial free-fall.)  Ergo (excuse me; I guess that’s actually Latin), Xanadu.

Photo by Act One, Too Ltd.

The award-winning musical spoof of the ’80s is receiving its regional premiere at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, frosted with lots of luscious musical numbers to sweeten the cult film that made Olivia Newton-John’s brassy, Aussie accent a part of pop culture.  “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” it’s not (I seriously doubt that Sonny is literate), unless James Joyce’s hero had plans to resurrect a defunct movie palace as a roller disco.

However, that’s Sonny’s vision, and Greek goddess Clio (aka Kira) has been sent from Mount Olympus to help him achieve his artistic fulfillment, here in this cultural mecca by the sea (No, not Venice—how over-with is that? Venice Beach!)

Photo by Act One, Too Ltd.

Chan’s production of this fluffy conception—as weighty as a wisp of cotton candy at the State Fair—is pure summer fun, underscored by strong and solid production values. Come not for the slimmest of plots, but the dozen-plus song-and-dance (and skate) numbers, choreographed with sassy skill by Tamara Kangas Erickson at the top of  her game, backed by fun–poking silliness, and you’ll get your money’s worth.

Photo by Act One, Too Ltd.

Taffy-haired Chan veteran Jodi Carmeli aces the role of Kira, delivering her songs with clarity, gusto and (wisely) emotional honesty rather than in wink-wink parodies. And these are songs you’re likely to come away humming. Her mortal lover, Sonny, is portrayed by another Chan returnee, Dieter Bierbrauer, last seen as “Oklahoma’s” Curly—another hero more suited for matinee idolatry than the Quiz Bowl. His Sonny, in sweatband, white knee socks and warm-up jacket, provides on-the-money vocals and chops with the skates, but is otherwise as one-dimensional as a Hollywood movie poster.

The strong cast includes other regulars: Keith Rice, as Zeus-cum-Xanadu owner Danny McGuire, plus Kira/Clio’s sister muses—witchy, bitchy Seri Johnson and Kersten Rodau among them. Deliciously stealing the show are several other sisters, Craig Daniels and Asono Mwanza, clearly relishing their spotlight roles as drag  queens (er, muses). Let’s hope to see them onstage again.

Photo by Act One, Too Ltd.

As a short-running summer show, “Xanadu” is scant on sets and costumes, and who cares? Come for the cotton candy. Which reminds me: The theater’s new food-and-beverage thrust now includes everything from lattes to craft beers, including an Aussie wine labeled “Xanadu.” Kudos for the boost in the kitchen, too.

Performances continue through September. For information, contact 952-934-1525 or www.ChanhassenDT.com.

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