Monday, September 24, 2012

Xany Xanadu: Chanhassen Dinner Theater’s latest effort skates over itself

It seems in musical theater that there are the shows that can, the shows that can’t, and the shows that just don’t give up.

Xanadu, a musical farce of the 1980 movie of the same name, is one of the latter. Despite a weak script, an even weaker premise, and the least amount of flash the Chanhassen has possibly ever seen, the cast heaves this show along with every ounce they have and provide some truly enjoyable moments.

Xanadu tells the tale of an uninspired artist (Sonny), whose depression quickly turns around when he is visited by the leader of the muses (Clio, disguised as Australian Kira). With Kira’s inspiration, he decides to turn a run down theater into an all-arts-allowed space named Xanadu that also houses a roller skating disco.

The more Clio works with Sonny, the more she becomes Kira and begins to fall in love with art and with him, breaking several of the rules Zeus created to regulate each of the muses. Two of Clio’s evil sisters conspire to take over her position as their leader and banish her forever.

I’ll save the ending for curious viewers, but please note that the only thing saving this show is its inherent sarcasm, which comes in spades. The cast is so involved in parodying themselves (sometimes on multiple levels) that otherwise painful moments can be brutally funny. Nowhere is this better seen than in Kersten Rodau’s portrayal of evil sister Melpomene, melting Disney’s Hercules into Ursula the sea witch in a strangely satisfying bad guy way. Her rendition of “Evil Woman” is definitely one of the show’s highlights, and I would love to see her take a crack at Ursula should Little Mermaid ever grace a Twin Cities stage.

As Clio/Kira, Jodi Carmeli is appropriately airy and has a spot-on imitation of Oliva Newton John’s trademark Aussie voice. She works as hard as possible to make Kira relatable and heartwarming, and occasionally succeeds.

Dieter Bierbrauer makes Sonny exactly the kind of annoying, blah hipster that he is. Uptownites, beware: you might find yourself offended by the unflattering (but in ways, true) hipster identity he portrays.

Xanadu’s biggest flaw is its lack of acrobatic dance, which Chanhassen usually pulls off with aplomb (could this be because so many of their regulars are currently kicking their way through Roman Holiday?). One of the most intriguing ideas of Xanadu on stage is that roller disco, and although a few nods are made to it here and there, there is no show-stopping skating number to bring the crowd to its feet.

The costumes and set are a stark departure from past shows, full of ice cream pastels and a congregation like setup that audience members can pay an extra fee to sit in onstage as the show plays on. The mythical character montage during “Have You Never Been Mellow?” is a testament to the genius of Chanhassen’s costume department, featuring wildly inventive centaur, cyclops and Medusa costumes.

Xanadu is as light as a whipped fat-free yogurt sundae, and attendees shouldn’t expect the serious, heart-tugging melodrama of usual musical fare. For anyone with a group of pals who enjoy silly parodies or fantastical fantasies, it’s a good group way to spend a hot day inside. Anyone looking for drama, plot or a standard musical should skip it in favor of other fare.