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Sunday, September 14, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Mercury Players and OUT!Cast Theatre turn Xanadu's sparkly '80s kitsch into irony-tinged gold
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Xanadu: Camp to the max.
Credit:Steve Noll

You may know Xanadu as the 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie featuring sparkly pop music, girls on roller skates and a hapless male lead in short-shorts. As of 2007, it's also a musical that includes all of the film's original songs, written by ELO, plus those trademark skates.

Unlike the movie, the musical is a parody of the big, jukebox extravaganzas that all but dominate Broadway these days. And while the film took itself too seriously, spawning the Razzies, Mercury Players and OUT!Cast Theatre bring a light, ironic touch to the play (through April 12 at the Bartell Theatre). The results are as candy-sweet as pop music itself.

Xanadu follows the story of the nine Greek muses, brought to life by artist and protagonist Sonny Malone (Kurtis Hopp). Malone is depressed by his lack of talent and considers ending it all by throwing himself off the Venice Beach pier. Enter Clio (Kelly Maxwell), leader of the muses. With the help of leg warmers, skates and an Australian accent, she transforms herself into a human named Kira and comes to Earth to inspire Sonny to achieve greatness. Her sisters warn her to remember Zeus' rules: no making art herself or falling in love with a common mortal. But two of her sisters do some evil meddling, and she's guilty of both sins faster than you can say "glitter nail polish."

The cast is a great joy to watch. Maxwell is, at times, a vocal ringer for Newton-John. She delivers the songs magnificently. Her smile, comic timing and '80s-style feathered hair evoke the Australian pop star, too, only sassier and funnier. Hopp's Malone hits all the right notes as well. Sexy and dim, he's the very essence of a stereotypical California blond. He also delights as one of the strongest singers and dancers in the cast.

The audience went wild for the backup chorus of muses, which included two men in white-and-gold toga dresses. Big ensemble numbers such as "Dancin'," "Don't Walk Away" and "All Over the World" were huge crowd-pleasers, thanks in part to kitschy props and lighting. First-time choreographer Lyn Pilch deserves a special mention for putting a dancing cherry on top of an already delectable show. Fog machines, whirling disco balls and a fire-breathing Pegasus provided visual excitement as well. To quote the muse Calliope (Mallory Saurer), "It's like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people."

On opening night, Xanadu seemed to be a treat for everyone in attendance. It's a sweet guilty pleasure that reminds me of one important reason people pack a theater: to have fun. Xanadu was just that, a whole lot of fun.

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