Lysistrata Jones Review: Broadway Voyeurism
The Broadway version of “Lysistrata Jones” begins with a loud boom, a full moon, a stage full of smoke, and an intoning diva in Grecian attire. Hooded monks move down the aisles of the Walter Kerr, then suddenly disrobe, revealing a bunch of college kids, dressed in T-shirts, jeans, sweat shirts emblazoned with their school’s logo, who get down — rocking, rapping and rolling. The beginning is big and funny and exciting, and leads you to think: They’ve pulled it off, this unlikely transition to Broadway from a small basement basketball court at Judson Memorial Church.
The euphoria is short-lived.
Six months ago, before my initial viewing of this new musical Off-Broadway, I questioned its very premise. Book writer Douglas Carter Beane (Sister Act, Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed) and composer and lyricist Lewis Flinn (Charles Busch’s The Divine Sister) had taken Aristophanes’ bawdy anti-war satire and turned it into a teen comedy: A group of cheerleaders refuse to have sex with a team of college basketball players until they start winning games. I thought the elimination of the anti-war theme missed – subverted! — the whole point of the play. But by the end of the musical, I concluded that, against the odds, and amid its liberties and banalities, Lysistrata Jones was irresistibly entertaining, primarily because of the appeal and energy of the cast.
By the end of the Broadway production, I found the musical’s entertainment more easily resisted.
It is not because of the cast. They are the exact same dozen performers as downtown, a sexy, athletic and ethnically diverse lot. The stand-outs remain Jason Tam as the nerdy blogger who turns out to have all the right moves (his dancing is hilarious and exhilarating) and Liz Mikel as the one-woman Greek chorus and Madam of a local brothel – a big buxom diva who can belt with the best. (She will be familiar to viewers of the TV series “Friday Night Lights” as Corinna Williams, mother of Smash Williams)
It doesn’t help that, having seen the show once, I now know the mildly subversive twists in the plot – the couplings and re-couplings of the characters that, on first viewing, are unexpected, because they don’t follow the formula of these kinds of shows. These pairings come closest to providing “Lysistrata Jones” a substantive if hardly original point – love can take many forms; diversity is good. The lack of these little surprises helps push the banality to the fore, despite the oft-infectious score and the mildly clever, up-to-date references to blogging, sexting and (Heaven help us) Newt Gingrich. There is a thin line in “Lysistrata Jones” between satirizing teen comedies and replicating one. Shows like “American Pie” themselves have elements of self-parody, after all, even as they supply their audiences with what they expect – some cheap laughs and titillation.
The laughs in “Lysistrata Jones” are no longer cheap – most tickets cost $130 – and the titillation is now at a distance, and, paradoxically, less palatable because of it.
The Off-Broadway production offered the adventure of staging that was site-specific – an actual basketball court – and the thrill of being no more than a few feet away from the performers, feeling almost a part of the energetic choreography. During the closing number of the Broadway production, “Give It Up,” the costume designers have dressed the cast in skimpy gold outfits and the set designer Allen Moyer uncovers a back wall of blindingly bright lights and blasts the confetti cannons. Theatergoers who felt part of an experience at Judson Memorial Church now at the Walter Kerr feel cast as voyeurs.
At the Walter Kerr
Book by Douglas Carter Beane; music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn
Directed and choreographed by Dan Knechtges; sets by Allen Moyer; costumes by David C. Woolard and Thomas Charles LeGalley; lighting by Michael Gottlieb; sound by Tony Meola
Cast: Patti Murin (Lysistrata Jones), Josh Segarra (Mick), Jason Tam (Xander), Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Robin), Alexander Aguilar (’Uardo), Ato Blankson-Wood (Tyllis), Katie Boren (Lampito), Kat Nejat (Cleonice), LaQuet Sharnell (Myrrhine), Teddy Toye (Harold), Alex Wyse (Cinesias) and Liz Mikel (Hetaira).
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Ticket prices: $25 to $147. Premium price: $199
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