Strange magic

Posted on 07 Apr 2010 at 4:18pm
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Have you never been mellow enough to enjoy ‘Xanadu,’ the campiest show since ‘Mamma Mia’?

ROLL ON | A Greek muse (Anika Larsen) inspires a Valley boy artist (Max Von Essen) in the uber-gay musical parody ‘Xanadu.’

XANADU
Fair Park Music Hall, 901 First Ave.
Tuesdays–Sundays through April 18
DallasSummerMusicals.com

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This may sounds like a meaningless distinction, but there’s a big difference between something that is good and something that is enjoyable. McDonald’s French fries aren’t good — not like, say, a potato veloute with white truffle oil, clarified butter and dill is good — but damn if I don’t love ‘em. Disco music, for the most part, is not good, but in the grand tradition of American Bandstand, it’s got a nice beat and you can dance to it.

Following that rubric, Xanadu, the camp stage musical now at Fair Park Music Hall, is not "good." But I dare you not to have a blast watching it.

Like the jukebox music it showcases — mind-numbing late-’70s pop, courtesy of Olivia Newton-John — Xanadu wants nothing more than to distract with campy charm. While hardly a classic, it makes up for every shortcoming with a cheeky awareness of its own ridiculousness. Even a particle of self-importance, or even relevance, would doom it. The total absence of pretense is its salvation. Non cogito ergo est jocus: It doesn’t think, therefore it is funny.

The plot — plot?! — concerns a Greek muse, Clio (Anika Larsen) who comes to 1980s Venice Beach to inspire a street artist (Max Von Essen) to pursue his art: Opening a roller-disco. Somehow, they work "I’m Alive" and "Have You Never Been Mellow" into it. I’m not sure how.

Xanadu is as campy as you can get without Paul Lynde and Bruce Vilanch vying for center square. Clio’s sister muses include two gay boys and a sassy black mama who rubs her boobs in the face of a gay audience member while plotting a curse worthy of Disney.

The writer, Douglas Carter Beane (who recently premiered Give It Up at the Dallas Theater Center), fills the script with enough gags (some great, some eh) that it has a surprisingly wide-reaching appeal. On opening night, there were enthusiastic cheers for the sashaying gay characters and double entendres. It consciously points out its silliness before you can, beating you to the punch. Being in on your own joke doesn’t make you a laughingstock, it makes you the life of the party.

It helps that Xanadu is so dated, it’s fresh again, with pop culture references like Clash of the Titans that add a retro nostalgia to it. "It’s children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people," one character explains.

Got that right.                        

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 9, 2010.

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