Wednesday, January 4, 2012

'Lysistrata Jones': She Likes Basketball. How About That!

Patti Murin as Lysistrata Jones

Sometimes, while settling into your seat prior to the start of a performance, it’s fun to eavesdrop (and pretty much impossible to avoid, in any case) on the conversations around you.

Take today for instance.  While awaiting the matinee curtain of the bouncy, cute musical Lysistrata Jones (at the Walter Kerr Theatre), I heard this great conversation behind me:

Theatergoer A:  I don’t really know what this is about.  Do you?

Theatergoer B:  Something about basketball…and sex.

Theatergoer A:  Well, I can handle one or the other, but I’m not sure about both.

I think Theatergoer A handled it just fine, at least based on the intermission conversation.

And what’s not to like?  Lysistrata Jones is a charming romp of a show, with book by  Douglas Carter Beane and performed by a talented cast of 12 and an equally talented band, visible on a catwalk above the stage and actively involved in the proceedings.

You might call Lysistrata Jones a labor of love by Mr. Bean’s circle of friends and his life partner, composer and lyricist Lewis Flinn. The pair collaborated on Mr. Beane’s very funny The Little Dog Laughed; the show is directed by Dan Knechtges, who choreographed the musical Xanadu, with book by DCB; and the band performs under the baton of Brad Simmons, who worked on Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, written by Guess Who.    

It should come as no surprise that Lysistrata Jones (the title role is played in lively 'Legally Blonde' style by Patti Murin) is inspired by the Greek comedy, Lysistrata, by Aristophanes.

As in the original, our heroine persuades her girlfriends to withhold sex from their boyfriends in order to get them to do something they want.  In this case, it is not anything quite so dramatic as putting an end to war; instead, what the girls want is for the boys to actually try to win a basketball game—something the team at their very laid-back college has never done.  (“No more givin’ it up ‘til you give up givin’ it up” go the lyrics to one of the catchier numbers). 

The shenanigans are overseen by a formidable Liz Mikel as the goddess-like Hetaira (the hetairai were courtesans in Ancient Greece, and this Hetaira is a madam at a brothel), who makes sure everything stays on track until lessons are learned and all is well in the world.  

You could argue, and I would not disagree, that perhaps a Broadway theater is not the best home (size-wise or ticket-price-wise) for this bit of cotton candy, which made the trip uptown from its former home at the probably more appropriate Judson Memorial Church Gymnasium at Washington Square South.

Indeed, despite some very positive reviews, notably by Ben Brantley in The New York Times, Lysistrata Jones is set to close on Sunday.  However, it is almost certain to become a fixture at college and community theaters around the country, and could very well show up for a longer stay at an Off-Broadway house like the New World Stages, where it would be right at home alongside other former Broadway shows like Avenue Q, Million Dollar Quartet, and Rent

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