Shameless camp, hokey shtick and peppy songs. Ah, we must be in "Xanadu" -- a place where heroes wear tube socks and cut-off shorts and goddesses wobble on roller skates. This musical spoof has wheeled into Chanhassen Dinner Theatre for its Upper Midwest premiere and you, dear customer, should bring no illusions of high art.
Director Michael Brindisi spins cotton candy out of this wispy stage show, which is based on the 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John. Try not to giggle, but the film took seriously the story about a Greek goddess who comes to life in the surf and sun and boardwalks of Venice Beach, Calif., to inspire a struggling artist who dreams of opening a roller disco.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane did what any ambitious 11th-grader might have done for the high school talent show: He wrote an elaborate sketch making fun of the movie. Beane allows only the lightest dusting of sincerity, and he quickly zaps those moments with delicious cynicism.
The show, a surprise Broadway hit, wisely retained the film's music by Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra and John Farrar. Close your eyes, listen and you can almost feel leg warmers creep up your ankles.
Brindisi has cast Jodi Carmeli as Clio, the muse who takes human form as a roller-skating beauty with an Australian accent. Either Carmeli spent lots of time at home with her stacks of Olivia Newton-John records or she has an impeccable ear for that breathy phrasing with its unfinished syllables and charm.
Carmeli also has just the right winking sense of deadpan humor, without ever winking.
For the young artist who dreams of turning an abandoned theater into a roller disco (and come on, who hasn't had that dream?), Chanhassen put a headband and knee-high white socks on Dieter Bierbrauer. His Sonny Malone plays straight into the story's banal absurdity -- as clueless as a guy with a "Kick me" sign on his back. He and Carmeli both have perfect voices for the pop tunes.
Keith Rice and Kersten Rodau sink their comic fangs into supporting roles. Rodau hasn't had this much fun on stage since "Musical of Musicals" in 2006 -- in which, incidentally, she was teamed with Rice. Rodau and Seri Johnson beautifully slaughter "Evil Woman," while Rice plays the straight ham on "Have You Never Been Mellow."
It gets a little embarrassing to gush about Rich Hamson's costumes every time out, but trust me -- when you see the centaur, the cyclops and the disco-ball girls, you will realize Hamson earns every plaudit.
So find your happy place and don't take yourself too seriously. "Xanadu" certainly doesn't.