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Some of you might remember the movie Xanadu, which appeared in 1980 and was almost universally panned by critics as a flop. I saw it and recall it as being perhaps one of the worst musical films ever made. It certainly shortened the film career of star Olivia Newton-John and is credited with being an inspiration for the Golden Raspberry Awards (the “Razzies”) which annually commemorate “the worst that Hollywood has to offer”.

Luckily for us, this legacy of awfulness is not what ATI’s season closing production by the same name is all about, merely what it is based on. Xanadu the Broadway musical is, in fact, a send-up of that unremarkable film. Amazingly, the writing team of Douglas Carter Bean and Christopher Ashley were inspired to take another look at that failed effort and rework it in a spoofish vein. The resulting production opened on Broadway in 2007 and garnered more than a few Tony and Drama Desk nominations.

Jenny Reber and Dominic Sheahan-Stahl star  as Clio/Kira and Sonny Malone in ATI's "Xanadu"

Jenny Reber and Dominic Sheahan-Stahl star as Clio/Kira and Sonny Malone in ATI’s “Xanadu”

The altered story still concerns an uninspired artist, Sonny Malone – played here by the very talented Dominic Sheahan-Stahl – who is at the end of his creative wits and dismally contemplates his self-demise. Enter the Muse Clio, a daughter of Zeus, on an assignment from Mount Olympus to be Danny’s inspiration. This Muse, portrayed by lovely local actress Jenny Reber, decides to change her name from Clio to Kira, don leg-warmers and roller skates, and take on an Australian accent. The couple’s encounter, their plan to open an all arts encompassing roller disco nightclub, their ultimate love feelings and the conflicting story arc provided by two of Clio’s older Muse sisters, joyfully played by ATI co-founders Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald, make up the mostly thin plot-line which is saved by a generous sprinkling of production numbers and songs.

DeJuan Jackson, Betsy Norton, Sean Seager, Kellie Spill, Judy Fitzgerald and Jenny Reber appear as Muses and "sisters" in ATI's Xanadu

DeJuan Jackson, Betsy Norton, Sean Seager, Kellie Spill, Judy Fitzgerald and Jenny Reber appear as Muses and “sisters” in ATI’s “Xanadu”

Ably directed by Billy Kimmel, with choreography by Allison Bibicoff, the skilled cast includes Betsy Norton, Kellie Spill, Sean Seager and Dejuan Jackson as the remaining Muse sisters (yes, guys are sisters in the campy framework on this sometimes preposterous satire) and features Paul Nicely in a winning portrayal of Danny Maguire (and Zeus). They spin through a long list of mostly familiar songs. Some of us who lived through (and survived) the disco era are glad to hear again such tunes as “Magic”, “Evil Woman” and “Have You Never Been Mellow”, among others. Though the dancing is sometimes less than precise and “snapping”, I felt the songs were carried out very nicely by the strong voices – especially those of the two leads. Ms. Reber and Sheahan-Stahl are blessed with fantastic vocal talents and the entire ensemble creates some wonderful moments with harmonies and solos. Musical Director Brent Marty assuredly leads his 4 piece combo through the maze of music.

Jenny Reber, Dominic Sheahan-Stahl, Allison Bibicoff, Betsy Norton, DeJuan Jackson, Paul Nicely, Sean Seager and Kellie Spill in a scene from ATI's "Xanadu"

Jenny Reber, Dominic Sheahan-Stahl, Allison Bibicoff, Betsy Norton, DeJuan Jackson, Paul Nicely, Sean Seager and Kellie Spill in a scene from ATI’s “Xanadu”

Of special note is the amazing sound design by Jonathan Parke, whose technical adeptness sets up a variety of interesting vocal special effects and sound cues. Margaret Ozemet’s costumes sparkle and amuse, while Daniel Klinger’s array of hair designs and effects are original and noteworthy. R.B. Marie put together a dynamic light design that enhances the story and Bernie Killian offers a concise set design.

Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald cavort as Calliope and Melpomene in ATI's "Xanadu"

Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald cavort as Calliope and Melpomene in ATI’s “Xanadu”

The fact is, the whole idea behind Xanadu is to make fun of such productions – at one point, in the show’s climax, Zeus proclaims from the 1980’s: “Creativity shall remain stymied for decades. The theatre? They’ll just take some stinkeroo movie…throw it onstage and call it a show.” This should never be forgotten while watching this over-the-top depiction of the forgettable film. If you begin to think it is otherwise, you will not only lose the point, you will wonder what ATI was thinking when they listed this show in their season schedule!

ATI’s Xanadu continues through May 17th. You may find information about show dates and times by going to http://www.actorstheatreofindiana.org or by calling the box office at 317.843.3800.

* – PHOTOS BY ZACH ROSING
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I am pleased to inform you of the upcoming ATI 2015-2016 season which includes The Fantastics (Sept 11-27), The Andrews Brothers (Nov 6-22), Frog and Toad (Dec 11-27), Sweeney Todd (Jan 29-Feb 14), and Unnecessary Farce (April 29-May 15). Season subscriptions go on sale May 8. Call 317.843.3800.

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