Apart from a few new jokes and some heightened production values, "Lysistrata Jones" remains unchanged and is as sharp and sassy as ever. The premise sounds paper-thin, but ook writer Douglas Carter Beane, who worked similar wonders with the stage version of the cult junk film "Xanadu," transforms this slender idea into a fully fleshed-out, stereotype-shattering comedy.
LYSISTRATA JONES Broadway Reviews
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“Lysistrata Jones” has been dressed up (and scaled up) real pretty for Broadway, bringing a heightened touch of summer sun and silliness to what has been an exceptionally gray season for musicals...Lysistrata may at first seem deeply superficial. But it turns out there’s tasty substance beneath the froth, just enough to keep you hooked. The same may be said of the endearingly escapist show in which she appears.
A lot of people whine that Broadway doesn’t know how to make entertaining musicals anymore. Happily, it turns out that Broadway still knows how to make ’em. With its catchy pop score, charming cast, zippy staging and wickedly funny book, “Lysistrata Jones” is one of the season’s tastiest pieces of candy. Sadly, it’s also one of the most underbuzzed.
The show has its charms, particularly Lewis Flynn's surprisingly hook-filled score, the reliably hilarious one-liners by book writer Douglas Carter Beane, and some fine comic performances. But too much of the time, it plays like a slightly raunchier version of a Nickelodeon or Disney Channel sitcom, rife with predictable plotlines and broad cultural and racial stereotypes.
When it premiered Off-Broadway early this summer in a site-specific production on a Greenwich Village gymnasium basketball court, Lysistrata Jones had a scrappy attitude and energy that were impossible to resist. Hustled uptown in a rushed transfer onto a traditional Broadway stage, this contemporary musical riff on the bawdy Aristophanes sex comedy from 411 B.C. shows signs of strain. That doesn’t mean the show’s entertainment value has been erased. But its more insubstantial qualities are magnified, demonstrating that commercial transfers are rarely an automatic slam-dunk.
Into Broadway's bleak midwinter comes a bright orange ray of summer nonsense: Lysistrata Jones — an agreeable, disposable, Off Broadway musical goof on Aristophanes by the creators of Xanadu — has been carted uptown from the Gym at Judson and deposited in the Walter Kerr. Weightless, harmless, wittily witless, and surprisingly sexless (for a show about women holding out on their menfolk, this time in a college-basketball milieu), the show transforms an ancient Greek sex comedy into a modern American abstinence skit, stripping away generations of antiwar or proto-feminist interpretations and replacing them with indifferent yo-go girls.
When the show opened downtown over the summer, much of its charm derived from the setting, a real gym that turned the audience into spectators...Junk food at Broadway prices is a tough sell. Pumping up the volume to ear-splitting levels only heightens the show’s irritation quotient. Don’t blame the game young cast. Producers, on the other hand, ought to know better.
You can’t combine so many cliches together and come up with something fresh. On the winning side, director-choreographer Dan Knechtges surrounds “Lyssie J” in good-looking production and his high-impact dance numbers that make your heart rate climb just watching them. The plot is about not giving it up, but the cast always delivers 100%.
The problem with Lysistrata Jones is not just that it has overstepped its bounds. The show’s harmless Broadway incarnation, energetically coached by Dan Knechtges, is in several ways superior to its humbler predecessor: The male cast has upped its game, the ladies stay strong, and Douglas Carter Beane has given a better backstory to his title character (Murin), who organizes a chastity strike to spur her boyfriend (Segarra) and his apathetic college team to victory. But the plot remains silly, the music humdrum and the characters trite; the Latino figures have little but accents to define them, and not even the imposing Liz Mikel can rescue her weary-wise prostitute character from the sassy molasses of big-black-lady stereotype. For a show that is supposedly a paean to passion, Lysistrata Jones seems happy enough to let its earnestness go to camp.
The original play combined subversive comedic antics with hefty stakes. The derivative combines campy comedic antics with no stakes whatsoever, unless some joker has given you Athens U. in the March Madness pool. Without some viable equivalent of something big to play for, "Lysistrata Jones," its amusements and imagination aside, plays very thin and contrived — albeit with thick Broadway prices.
While no theatrical air ball, "Lysistrata Jones" isn't a slam dunk, either. It's got terrific songs by Lewis Flinn and an energetic cast, but the book is too derivative, a few of the actors seem overmatched, the choreography from Dan Knechtges is merely serviceable, and there aren't enough killer jokes...When it was stumbled upon at Judson Memorial Church, there was a surprising jolt: The quality was really high in such an unusual place. But the show is now wilting under the white lights of Broadway and the air is seeping out of the ball.
Beane’s book is the standout creative element, allowing the cast, especially a big-mama Greek chorus figure called Hetaira, given good growl by Liz Mikel, to deliver laughs you don’t hate yourself for the next morning. Unfortunately, Beane’s book also tends to lose the basic plot thread, which unravels from helping the team win a game to a fairly generic message of uplift. Musically, the show keeps an audience percolating – vanilla rap, mild funk and power balladry are the presiding genres – but the audio design sounds tinny.
Don't get me started. I missed the upbeat show with the repugnant concept last summer when the Transport Group had a successful run with it downtown in a hip church gym. Transferred now to Broadway, the thing proves to be as trivializing and demeaning as it sounded. Worse -- in terms of entertainment, if not message -- this is also ludicrous, busy and unrelentingly dull.
Beane is the author of such amusing, sophisticated comedies as "The Little Dog Laughed" and "As Bees in Honey Drown," as well as the very funny book for the musical "Sister Act." With "Lysistrata Jones," which is in the vein of the book he provided for the wit-challenged "Xanadu," he seems to be slumming, writing condescendingly about characters for whom he has no affection or regard. In the second act, Beane tries to plant a message in the feeble goings-on: Strive for what you want. It's a lesson that few audience members, I think, would have picked up from the show on their own.