Thursday, November 17, 2011

theatre review LYSISTRATA JONES, Broadway November 16

The new Broadway musical Lysistrata Jones had a successful run Off Broadway earlier this year as well as a regional try out production in Texas in 2010.    The musical is based on the ancient Greek play by Aristophanes which was first performed in 411 BC.  We are reminded in the opening number that this puts it in the public domain so the creators are free to take any liberties with it they choose, and they choose to take many.  Set at modern day Athens University with a basketball team that hasn't won a game in 30 years, Lysistrata Jones attempts to bring social commentary and activist action to the modern pop musical comedy in a fun, modern and relevant way.

Now the overall theme of the original play of one woman convincing the women around her to withhold sexual activities to spur their men on to greatness is still at the core of the musical.  But the fact that the greatness they are attempting to achieve from the men is for them to finally win a basketball game and not to bring peace to the war as in the original play is the first of several reasons why I don't think this musical will be running come Spring time.

Katie Boren, Lindsay Chambers, Patti Murin, LaQuet Sharnell
and Kat Nejat from the Off Broadway production
Douglas Carter Beane has contributed an amusing book to the show.  There are several humorous moments including a couple that are laugh out loud funny, but the many references to modern news items make it so much less original then his other plays.  You can also pretty much predict everything that will happen in the show.  The score by Lewis Flinn is mostly pedestrian, serviceable at best with only a couple of memorable songs.  The whole show is amusing but nothing that I'd go out of my way to recommend when there are many other more original or humorous shows one could see instead.

Now I know this show is in previews and doesn't open until December 14th, so anything is still possible, but with the run they already had Off Broadway as well as in Dallas before that, I can't imagine much will change by opening night.

Josh Segarra and Patti Murin
from the Off Broadway production
Patti Murin and Liz Mikel are the the leads in the show.  Murin is Lysistrata and Mikel is Hetaira, who serves as both the narrator and a character within the play.   They are both well suited to their roles, though Murin's voice was a little weak on the higher notes and Mikel isn't given quite the right song to show what it appears she is capable of.  The same can be said of Josh Segarra as the male lead, his solo song is a little too wrong for his voice or just isn't written in such a way to show off his skills.  Lindsay Nicole Chambers scores well as Robin, the smart girl who sets Lysistrata's plan into motion.  And Jason Tam is charming as Xander, the school geek.

Jason Tam from the
Off Broadway production
The rest of the ensemble is especially strong and all have several moments to show their vocal chops or comedic skills but the overall lack of character development is what really sets this show behind so many others that have had years of development before reaching Broadway.  For example, Lysistrata is an exchange student new to Athens University who somehow already has the basketball star as her boyfriend and immediately gets all the girls to not only form a cheerleading team but also follow her to the path of chastity.  If there was any plot explanation why the girls would look up to someone new so quickly, and how this all happened in the first few minutes of the show, it was lost on me in the very unfocused opening number.  I think how you can predict everything that will happen is because almost all of the characters are stereotypes that with little or no background to their characters and just a few lines of dialogue make you know exactly where they will end up by the curtain call.

Liz Mikel and the cast from the Off Broadway run
 Also there is no immediate or compassionate basis behind the idea of placing the sex strike on wanting the basketball team to finally win a game, in fact the other girls on the cheerleading squad seem they could care less if their boyfriends win a game or not.  They all are more then ready to give up their plan after the boys purposely lose the first game after they are told of the no sex plan.   Because of that lack of compassion, the audience has no real connection to the characters or the main plot of the show.  Now the second act is much better than the first, so don't leave at intermission.

Direction and choreography by Dan Knechtges are fun and upbeat with some impressive dribbling added into the mix and some great breakdancing provided by Alexander Aguilar.

Don't get me wrong, Lysistrata Jones isn't a horrible show.  It does have it's good parts including a very energetic cast who give some fine performances and a couple of touching or comedic moments, especially in the second act.  It's an interesting, fun show with a game cast, but nothing much more than that.  While it does have a sexual component at it's center and there are a few PG-13 rated moments where it tries to be edgy, it isn't as risque as The Book of Mormon, and lacks the heart that that show has as well.

With all of the basketball choreography and college scenes led by a blond with a mission it at times seems like the bastard offspring of High School Musical and Legally Blond but somehow lacks the originality and freshness that those shows had.  I actually wonder if it would have been better as a play instead of a musical.

Official Show Site

TV Commercial featuring Patti Murin and Josh Segarra:

Behind the scenes of the Off Broadway production from earlier this year:

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