Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Mar 26, 2014
12:56 PM
Stage Write

Xanadu: A Place Where Nobody Dared to Go

Xanadu: A Place Where Nobody Dared to Go

PHOTO BY STEVE NOLL

You have to believe we are magic: Kurtis Hopp (left) and Kelly Maxwell skate, sing and swoon as Sony and Kira in Mercury Players' 'Xanadu: The Broadway Comedy Musical.'

As a child of the ‘80s, I’ll cop to spending more than a few weekends wearing velour shirts and going around in circles under the mirror ball at the local roller rink. And, yes, part of that experience involved rolling to the soundtrack of Xanadu, the uber-cheesy 1980 movie starring Olivia Newton-John as an otherworldly Greek muse who falls in love with a struggling street muralist and helps him open a bitchin’ roller disco. Ah, those ELO memories.

Some people look at Xanadu and see an embarrassing cheesebomb artifact of a decade well in our collective rearview mirrors. Steve Noll, local producer and founder of Out!Cast Theatre, looked at Xanadu and saw an opportunity for some fun.

“My friends are like, ‘It’s the worst piece of crap in the world,’" says Noll. "I get that. It’s a running joke."

But a funny thing happened as Noll began to talk about trying to stage Douglas Carter Beane’s Tony-nominated 2007 musical version of Xanadu with his friends in the local theater community. He discovered that folks—like producer/actor Dana Pellebon, music producer Meghan Rose and choreographer Lyn Pilch—were actually rabid fans.

“It’s like there’s this secret Xanadu society,” says Noll, who first caught the musical  on Broadway on a trip to New York.

That unspoken, shared love of a cult classic is what led us to Mercury Players Theatre’s production of Xanadu: The Comedy Broadway Musical, opening this Friday in the Bartell Theatre. Noll’s directing it, Pellebon’s singing in it, Rose directs the music and Pilch is choreographing it.

Say (or sing) it with me: You have to believe we are magic.

 “Xanadu represents everything from the ‘80s that went wrong,” says Noll. “But the producers of the musical, they got the joke.” Noll first saw and fell in love with the movie when he was twelve; as an adult, he’s come to appreciate and embrace the campiness of the movie and the musical.

So does Mercury Players' production. Beane’s musical embellishes on the movie in several ways, adding a couple of evil muses to amp the dramatic tension and a couple extra tunes to the movie’s soundtrack (Think ELO’s “Evil Woman” and Newton-John’s “Have You Ever Been Mellow?”) Noll has plenty of his own flashy embellishments in store, including a confetti cannon, a fog machine, a gigantic cheesy cutout prop of a Pegasus and an onstage fireball effect.

Don’t think Noll’s drunk a double-shot of parody Kool-Aid, however, even if the show’s plot remains as ridiculous as ever.

“In other productions, the singers made fun of the songs,” says Noll. “We decided not to do that. We want to do the songs properly, let the music really soar.”

Indeed, the songs, dancing and outrageous costumes are likely to carry the load here—in other words, don’t expect an opulent set, but do expect full-throated renditions of “Suddenly,” “All Over the World” and “Magic,” the song that actually spent several weeks at number one on the Billboard charts back in 1980.  

Also expect feathered hair, serious legwarmers and, of course, roller skates, even though the Bartell’s Drury Stage isn’t as large as your typical roller rink—or the spectacular sets you may remember from the film.   

“We are definitely roller skating,” says Noll. “Most of the cast members do.”

Xanadu: the Comedy Broadway Musical runs March 28-April 12 in the Bartell Theater’s Drury Stage. For ticket information, click here.

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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