Give It Up for Lysistrata...Don't Give Up On It

I was going to fanboy over my love for the Godspell revival playing at the Circle in the Square theater, but there is always time for that. Besides, Lysistrata Jones opened this week to some better-than-expected reviews (from my perspective), so I feel obligated to throw out my opinion.

I saw this show last weekend courtesy of StudentRush.org for $5 (My second favorite ticket price other then ‘free’). Let me say, I was pleasantly surprised. The show’s premise – a bunch of college cheerleaders, led by recent transfer Lysistrata Jones, withhold sex until their basketball-playing boyfriends end their infamous losing streak – had the makings of a “so bad, it’s good” afternoon out at the theater. Who would of guessed? Instead of being “so bad, it’s good”, it is a good show with some down-ish moments.

Regardless, it does deserve cheers in several different regards; above all, it is a serviceable original musical. I mean, the show’s premise is loosely based on Aristophane’s “Lysistrata Jones,” but by Broadway labels, it is considered an original work. But take a look around Broadway the past season or so. Revivals (Godspell, Follies, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Anything Goes) and adaptations from movies (Sister Act, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Catch Me If You Can, Bonnie and Clyde) comprise nearly all theatergoing options (other then the long-running survivors). Look at the upcoming season: Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Ghost, Newsies, Porgy and Bess…I think you get the point.

Not that I dislike revivals (unless the original show sucks like Follies) or adaptations from movies, but look at the shows slated to end prematurely. Stick Fly and the aforementioned Lysistrata, both original shows, are on the guillotine with Bonnie and Clyde (Edit: Bonnie and Clyde was just announced to close on December 31…wah wah). And Lysistrata had not even opened yet until this past Wednesday. I know the recession has made investors and producers apprehensive about their Broadway ventures, just as theatergoers are choosing more safer, surefire shows, but c’mon people…take a chance.

It helps that the show succeeds on being of-the-moment and funny. Putting my laugh box into overdrive is a great way into my pants heart, especially since most of the jokes landed. In fact, there was a…sophistication to them and a high-level of wit, as if a young, up-to-date, smart writer with a dry sense of humor emerged to throw out some jokes.

“No news is good news.”
“Try telling that to Amelia Earhart’s Family.”

“Where are we going to find a brothel?”
“Let’s ask Siri”

“I’m sorry; I have the iPhone and for some reason, I sometimes don’t get texts or phone calls.”

Hysterical. Sure, some of these lines seem a little forced, like one about Newt Gingrich, but why bother…I laughed-out-loud multiple times and appreciate the effort in fully-realizing the setting and the tone.

We are strong women!
We put 'X's and 'No' signs on our funboxes.
I also have to give the show credit, whether they intended to or not, for being very subtle with its social commentary. The character of Lysistrata - her spunk, optimism and determination in the face of adversity – stands as an antithesis to all the negativity and capitulation that surrounds her. Whether it is her parents surrendering after their income is downsized (and as a result, forcing her to switch schools) or her boyfriend and basketball team futile efforts at winning a basketball game, she represents the epitome of hope when there is little to no motivation or any support.

Oh sure; that is not groundbreaking message in any way (in fact, it is somewhat of a cliché), but it works as a relevant message regarding the recession, the state of education and the status of the world. Golf claps for Lyssie Jones…

The book and the characters are a different story…average would be the operative word, I suppose. The characters, unsurprisingly, start off as one-dimensional ciphers. Whether it is the acting or the writing, some of them never breakout of their stereotypes. The story plays out with almost no narrative tension; low expectations or not, the story is too slightly too predictable (and derivative of some other teen movies) for the Great White Way.

"Why, yes I am fierce."
I say that like it is a disastrous thing (it normally would be), but the whole package still works. The cast and music is uneven, but they succeed by a small margin. Patti Murin’s portrayal of Lysistrata is a dynamo. The upbeat, perky cheerleader could grate easily, but Murin is so good you want to cheer for her from the getgo. Her “Change the World” number early on in the show was a personal favorite of mine; I was instantly a fan. She has been getting raves for her belting vocals on “Where Am I Now.” Yes, she can sing, but that song was of the “end of the first act ballad” formula,” it could have been substituted for “Defying Gravity” or “Out Here on my Own.” Same old song, same style, slightly different lyrics…but similar meaning.

Of the supporting cast, there were some other standouts. Lindsay Nicole Chambers was awesome as Robin, the insightful and droll feminist poet who introduces Lysistrata to the original Aristophanes story (a nice little meta reference). For a character with a smarter then thou persona, I found her oddly likeable and I do not think I am alone on that. I was also quite fond of Jason Tam’s Xander, a blogger activist turned Mascot under Lysistrata’s reign. He busted out some killer dance moves and energy once he left the laptop behind; he also got a great number with “Hold On” with Lysistrata and Hetaria.

Oh, Hetaria is essentially the narrator of the show (except when she takes the form of a brothel owner). The diva could sing (hence the title of “diva”) but I was unmoved by her character’s purpose. She is just…there; sometimes for no reason, other times for little reason or just to sing a note.

Oh man, I am a Tumblr Fanservice.
Josh Segarra as Mick, Lysistrata’s boyfriend and captain of the basketball team, was mostly inoffensive. He is certainly nice on the eyes, but Mick never really got off the ground until his inner poet and sensitivity emerged late in the second act. To his credit, he picked it up for a beautiful rendition of “When She Smiles.” It was an echo to 90’s pop love songs by solo artists; it turned out to be a great fit for him. He may not be the strongest of singers, but he pulled it off before it was too late. At least he comes with a nod to the estrogen brigade bait fandom in dire need of a sensitive, attractive athlete.

The rest of the songs/performances range from okay to unmemorable. The score is consistent and competent (something I am surprised to admit) with a score composed of top-40 with a theater twist, but other then the songs I already mentioned, nothing else registers as a “must-own” song. Still, I definitely would not mind a cast recording.

Aside from one offensively horrible jewish basketball player acting all black and ghetto (great actor, reprehensible character), the rest of the ensemble did not register and does nothing to upend the conventions of their characters. Generally, other then Xander and Mick, the guys were nothing to write home about and were far inferior in quality to the girls.

Trusted theater friend Dan made a comment that Lysistrata Jones could run a course similar to Xanadu (both books are written by Douglas Carter Beane). Both are off-beat, unconventional by Broadway standards and they have a bit of this ridiculous, but irresistible, fun charm. I don’t want to see it close anytime soon - not just because every time a show ends, an angel loses its wings – because there is a younger theatergoing audience whom would chew this show up. I found its appeal even though it fell short in some regards; but overall, it is a fun time at the theater.

If I had any say in the matter, I would have kept Lysistrata Jones off-Broadway (Fun Fact: their off-Broadway run had the audience seating on bleachers) and brought in the field trips of high school and college students. I also support the idea of this show becoming a movie-musical because I think it will become a cult hit like Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You (if it is done right). However, it is on Broadway and managed to be one of the few times I left feeling satisfied with what I saw this season. Musicals geared towards a younger audience can be thoughtless and ingenuous, but Lysistrata could be this season’s sleeper hit if people open their minds a little and see it.

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