nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
December 16, 2011
Give it up for Lysistrata Jones. When last we left Lewis Flinn and Douglas Carter Beane’s jubilant and deliciously silly riff on Aristophanes, she had conquered the bright lights of Washington Square South. The intimate Gym at Judson seemed like the ideal spot for this teen musical comedy, directed and choreographed for The Transport Group by Dan Knechtges (who also helmed an earlier production at Dallas Theater Center). Then, Lyssie Jay, as she likes to be called, set her sights on even brighter lights—Broadway. Most were skeptical that this spunky little piece would be able to withstand a Broadway berth, especially in a three-tiered house like the Walter Kerr, yet I’m happy to say that, although still flawed, it works better than I figured.
Beane sets the action at Athens University, a large college with a basketball team that hasn’t won a game in 30 years, not that the players care. Enter Lysistrata Jones, a new transfer student who, after reading the Spark Notes of the play that bears her name, gets her cheerleader girlfriends to go on strike. No more "giving it up" to their basketball player boyfriends until they win a game. Of course, things don’t really go the way Lyssie planned, and the kids find themselves visiting the local Madame for advice.
Over the summer, I likened the show to a mix of 10 Things I Hate About You (a teen comedy modeled after The Taming of the Shrew) and Legally Blonde the Musical. But it doesn’t stop there. Beane’s smart and witty book is sending up the entire teen comedy genre, from Pretty in Pink to Not Another Teen Movie. A master of contemporary topical humor, he throws in references to Newt Gingrich, Apple’s Siri, and so much more that flits by so quickly you won’t be able to catch it all. The qualms I had in June still remain. I’m still unsure why such sexually self-assured women need to visit a Madame for advice on how to tease their men. I also wonder why they go out of their way to not use the word “sex,” yet so easily—and jarringly—use the word "whore." Flinn’s score is still the production’s weakest link; it’s not particularly interesting and is so over-amplified that lyrics get lost too often.
The entire cast from the Judson production repeats their work here. Led by the effervescent Patti Murin (as Lysistrata) and the devilishly entertaining Liz Mikel (as Heratia, the Madame/Greek Chorus), the company works hard to make the show look like it belongs where it is. The comedy in the performances of Katie Boren, Kat Nejat, LaQuet Sharnell, Alexander Aguilar, Ato Blankson-Wood, Teddy Toye and Alex Wyse has only been strengthened. Josh Segarra (as the team captain who can quote Whitman at length), Jason Tam (as one of the smart kids, a liberal blogger who takes a liking to Lyssie) and Lindsay Nicole Chambers (as a student librarian who busts out of her shell) have found ways of deepening their seriously funny performances.
The design has also been ramped up for the Kerr. Allen Moyer has added a lot of glitz to his basketball court set, while Michael Gottleib has provided lighting reminiscent of a rock concert. Thomas Charles LeGalley and David C. Woolard’s costumes show just the right amount of skin. Knechtges keeps the show moving at a fast clip and his exciting, basketball-inspired choreography fills the stage well.
Whether or not Lysistrata Jones will survive on the main stem remains to be seen. The appeal doesn’t extend to everyone, though I certainly hope it finds the audience it deserves. It provides a real jolt of energy that no other musical this season has managed to supply.