It’s a measure of composer Chan Poling’s confidence that one of the songs that competes to be an anthem in “A Night in Olympus” could have been titled by Kanye West. The track, “The Most Beautiful Parking Lot in the World,” sweeps us up in its bouncy, infectious pop refrain.
“Olympus,” Poling’s rocking new musical, premiered Saturday at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis. While it shares leitmotifs with “Venus,” an earlier Poling musical, “Olympus” is clearer and funnier, with a more tightly drawn narrative (thanks to witty playwrights Jeffrey Hatcher and Bill Corbett, who co-wrote the pun-filled book). It also benefits from the hand of arranger Robert Elhai, who worked with Poling on “Glensheen” last fall at History Theatre.
“Olympus” also benefits from the star power of ensemble leader Tyler Michaels, a Broadway-caliber talent who is cast opposite relative newcomer McKinnley Aitchison.
However, for a show set around a high school prom, “Olympus” has a cast (admittedly gifted) that is long in the tooth. Mark Rosenwinkel, for example, is a sexagenarian who is asked to play, among other things, a teenager.
Though named for the mountain home of the gods, “Olympus” is set in a flat, featureless Indiana town of the same name. Maggie (McKinnley) dreams of going to the big dance with stud Chad (Adam Qualls). But this is high school, and without something radical happening, she has zero chance.
Enter Miss Stenger (sensuous Aimee K. Bryant), who turns out to be the fallen goddess Venus in a school where all the teachers are fallen gods and goddesses. She overhears Maggie voicing her wish to become the most beautiful girl in the world and makes it so. But being sexy and popular is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially if you can’t be your authentic self.
In director Michael Robins’ staging, Maggie’s transformation wisely is not about makeup or appearance. Aitchison takes down her hair as the only outward sign of her change. Inwardly, the actor goes into beast mode, changing her attitude from library-meek to supermodel slayer of hearts, with a fake accent.
Singing with charisma, Aitchison makes Maggie’s transformation number, “I’m the One,” into a showstopper. She is stylish as she is hoisted by — and literally walks over — men. (The winning choreography is by Karis Sloss.)
Michaels embodies the show’s confidence as well, singing “Zombie Love Song” with power and beauty. Qualls displays the widest range, showing annoying vanity as Chad and demonic pleasure as the Janitor Rolfe (the fallen Hades).
Composer Poling gives all the ensemble members (Norah Long, Dieter Bierbrauer and Randy Schmeling round out the cast) moments to shine. The score — which ranges from pop to a smattering of hip-hop to the polka-esque “What’s Your Supershark?” — is delivered brightly by a quintet led by Jason Hansen.
His work, and that of this mature but assured cast, makes humming a paean to a parking lot something not to be self-conscious about.