Lysistrata Jones, A Musical Comedy
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
June 3, 2011
With much reverence and respect to the original, Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn have turned Lysistrata, Aristophanes’s comedy from 411 BC about a group of women who withhold conjugal activities from their lovers, into a teen comedy. Actually, Lysistrata Jones is a teen musical comedy.
In the Aristophanes, the title character convenes a group of women from all over Greece and persuades them to stop providing sexual pleasure to their lovers as a method to force the end of the Peloponnesian War. Beane and Flynn’s musical, directed and choreographed by Dan Knechtges, transfers the comedy to Athens University, a (presumably) liberal arts college in 2011 America, where Lyssie, a recent transfer student, convinces her fellow cheerleaders to withhold “giving it up” from their basketball player boyfriends until they win a game, which The Spartans haven’t done in 30 years.
The niftiest part of Lysistrata Jones, a blend of 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde: The Musical, is its unconventional staging, in the Judson Church Gymnasium at Washington Square South. The audience is seated on folding chairs on risers, while the action takes place on the basketball court in front of (and occasionally behind) them. Knechtges has done a superb job of choreographing engaging and athletic dance numbers that resemble basketball games and cheers that look as though they’d actually be performed by cheerleaders.
If you find teen humor funny, you’ll be grinning from start to finish. Beane’s whip smart book is peppered with a plethora of sexual double entendres and, as is his wont, the occasional pithy pop culture reference. Not only that, he also throws in nods to Greek city-states and landmarks, like Troy (which becomes Troy Tech) and the Acropolis (which becomes the hot night spot, the Acropolis Mountain Lounge), all of which are good for a chuckle or two whenever they’re mentioned. Flinn’s score is rarely at the same level, though there are a few stand-out numbers, primarily “You Go Your Way,” which showcases the cast’s adeptness at dancing while dribbling basketballs and “No More Giving It Up!” which features the excellent lyric “No more giving it up / til you give up / giving it up.”
Occasionally, the book will provide a few head-scratching questions of logic, like why such sexually self-assured women as Lysistrata (the delightful Patti Murin) and her fellow cheerleaders (Katie Boren, Kat Nejat, LaQuet Sharnell, and Lindsay Nicole Chambers) need to visit the local madam (the soulful and mesmerizing Liz Mikel, who doubles as the Greek chorus) for tips on how to seduce their men folk (Alexander Aguilar, Max Kumangai, Teddy Toye, Alex Wyse, and Josh Segarra as the team captain who can quote Whitman at length.) It's better to tell your instinct to ignore any questions should they arise, as the first-rate company (which also includes Jason Tam, hilarious as a liberal student blogger-turned-team-mascot) performs the material and Knechtges's choreography so skillfully that it almost made me want to start shooting hoops.
The production’s biggest flaw is the booming sound design by Tony Meola, which, in the tiny space, doesn’t need to be as loud as it is. Not only does it distort the lyrics, but it turns some of the high notes into high-pitched shrieks. David Woolard and Thomas Charles LeGalley’s costumes are appropriately sexy, while Allen Moyer’s clever set and Michael Gottlieb’s lighting made excellent use of the Judson Gym, which was recently renovated and turned into a theater space.
On the heels of their excellent revival of Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again in a warehouse in SoHo, Transport Group has once again proved that energizing theater need not be in a traditional space.