Review: Musings on MSMT's Xanadu

The gods must be ’80s
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  July 27, 2011

MYTHOLOGIZING THE ’80S The cast of Xanadu at Maine State Music Theatre.

For years now, the decade of the 1980s has been enjoying a curiously sustained wave of nostalgia. It might be tempting to attribute this phenomenon more to certain Peter Pan qualities of the Gen X generation than to any inherent worthiness of the decade, but perhaps that would be uncharitable. At any rate, here the '80s are again, both feted and sent up in one of the truly wackier stage musicals of the season: Xanadu, on stage at the Maine State Music Theatre under the spirited direction of Jason Wetzel and Marc Robin, is (get ready) a musical comedy, based on a 1980 musical-sci-fi-romance film starring Olivia Newton John, in which one of the classical Nine Muses, Clio (Jenny Lee Stern, who did a gorgeous Patsy Cline last season in Always), disguises herself as Kira, an Australian roller-disco girl with a questionable accent, in order to inspire a frustrated Los Angeles street artist named Sonny (Brandon Andrus, with the looks and easy charisma of a young Tony Danza, in high-stretching tube socks), who has just spray-painted an image of "the ancient arty chicks" on a wall.

Together, Kira and Sonny dream of turning a condemned building into a roller-disco-cum-gallery, which requires them to win over the jaded band-leader-turned-development-mogul Danny (Ed Romanoff — and Gene Kelly, rather astonishingly, in the film), who is middle-aged and a bottom-line jerk, but who once had his own dream of a starting a jazz club, and who thinks he also fell in love with someone very much like Kira. Everyone falls in love with the Muses, of course, and Sonny is no exception. The problem is that Clio/Kira reciprocates, which is expressly forbidden by her dad, Zeus. The other problem is that Clio's jealous and evil sisters, Melpomene (Charis Leos, a big-voiced MSMT favorite) and Calliope (Erin Maguire, sort of a love-child, comedically speaking, of Lucille Ball and Steve Urkel) keep scheming and throwing curses around. Will love prevail? Will immortally inspired art? If you are even remotely familiar with the culture of the '80s, trust your educated guesses.

In the meantime, lots of leg warmers, fluorescent colors, and skin-tight lamé prevail on MSMT's stage, as the Muses and mortals dance and sing, and where the main currency is gleefully wrought ham. Stern is a beautiful singer, but it's glooped up with her nasal, faux-Aussie accent and her caricature. And not only are the '80s lovingly lampooned and mythologically explained (1980 is the year in which "the Muses are in retreat"), but so are theatrical conventions in general — monologues, flashbacks, and double-casting all receive pointed winks. The show also has a serious and somewhat bewildering breast fixation, with Calliope laying hands — and sometimes face — upon not just the comely Sonny's, but also her older sister's. "This is like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people," one of the Muses observes in another meta-moment. Perhaps so!

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