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Review: Xanadu the Musical

Sarah Green was eight years old when she saw her first musical, Jesus Christ, Superstar. The costumes, the lyrics, the atmosphere — she thought her love was unconditional. Until she met Xanadu the Musical.

I love musicals. My devotion to them is a frequent source of amusement to friends; many question my taste (or lack thereof); some roll their eyes; a few patiently try to explain why musicals aren’t a real art form. Their criticisms have no impact on me. I love the sequins, relish the thrill of a good chorus line and clap along in the encore with the best of them. I honestly thought my love for camp theatre knew no bounds.

Enter Xanadu the Musical.

It only took the opening number to convert me from ‘out and proud’ musical lover to scathing critic. Suddenly I understood all those comments I’ve had over the years: I too had ears that burned from unbelievably high notes; I’d have handed over my wallet for sunglasses to protect me from eye-assaulting sequin-clad fluorescent costumes; I couldn’t believe the ridiculous narrative they were trying to pass off as a ‘storyline’. I know Julie Andrews flying under a black umbrella stretches the imagination a little, but really, a Greek demigoddess building a roller-disco? Totally preposterous.

I gathered from the squeals of recognition in the audience that watching the 1980 movie might have braced me for all this. As I considered running for the exit, I was aware fans of the film would probably tell me the cheesiness is the best bit; something to celebrate and embrace wholeheartedly. I know I’ve used the same argument in defence of many of my favourites. Weighed down by my own hypocrisy, I concluded the only thing to do was ‘go along with it’. I chucked aside my skepticism, suspended my disbelief and willed my eyes to watch the insane swirl of colours.

And you know what? Slowly, but surely, I found myself having a good time.

It’s impossible not to warm to Christie Whelan as Clio/Kira; I’m sure her infectious enthusiasm and charisma would win over the hardest of skeptics. Even her highest notes become impressive after a while, and not just in a ‘how did that not break glass’ sort of way. Sam Ludeman as Sonny is equally likeable and the pair together are charming and funny. Who cares if the cast’s lines are ridiculous; they deliver them with attitude.

The ability of a show to laugh at itself, go way beyond over-the-top, and prioritise fun far above anything else, is the thing I love most in musicals. Xanadu the Musical comes with an abundant supply of all these characteristics. Sure, it may grate a little – say, for the first thirty minutes – but I had to conclude I was glad I ‘gave it a go’.

Thank you Xanadu for showing me that even I have a threshold. And thank you even more for showing me that breaking the cheesiness barrier can indeed be – despite the initial pain – an enjoyable experience.

Musical-haters, take note.

Xanadu the Musical is playing at the Grand Xanadu Marquee, Docklands, until 3 April.

Sarah Green is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and a former editor of upstart.  She is currently writing a thesis on the 1970s protests at La Trobe.

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