Frothy fun abounds at the Walter Kerr Theater where Lysistrata Jones has made a triumphant transfer to Broadway. This silly, surprisingly heartfelt update of Aristophanes’ comedy about the battle of the sexes is this season’s surprise answer to a good time at the theater.
Loosely – let me stress that – based on the ancient drama, Lysistrata Jones takes place at a 20th century college where the title character, disgusted by the apathy of the school’s basketball team, convinces her fellow cheerleader girlfriends to withhold sex from their boyfriends until they win a game.
‘“No more giving it up, til you give up giving it up,” they inform their respective lovers. (The pop-style music and lyrics are by Lewis Flinn.) The boys, needless to say, are less than enthused and refuse to abide by the agreement. On the contrary, they are more determined to lose than before. A battle of the sexes promptly ensues, and it is more than a little sexy itself.
Lysistrata Jones has transferred uptown from the gym at Judson Memorial Church, where it was performed in the summer. Many were concerned that moving to a larger space would result in the loss of its small-space charm, but set designer Allen Moyer and director-choreographer Dan Knechtges have expanded the show’s charm and appeal to capably fill the much larger Walter Kerr Theater.
Narrated by an earthy goddess, Hetaira (the fabulous Liz Mikel), the show follows Lysistrata (an appealing and talented Patti Murin), a young woman disgusted by the apathy she witnesses all around her. Inspired by reading the SparkNotes for “Lysistrata,” she decides that refusing sex to the basketball team will then inspire them to win a game. While this may appear to be petty or even degrading to women, Murin’s heartfelt frustration with apathy and longing to see people make “passionate choices” at least momentarily override any lingering squeamishness about the choices the females do make. Murin nails the deadpan delivery of Lysistrata’s ditzy lines while smoothly transforming her into a deeper, more developed character.
As Mick, Lysistrata’s boyfriend, Josh Segarra moves beyond the stereotypical basketball hunk, depicting his character’s more sensitive, poetry-loving side with heart. Robin, the feminist poetry-slamming librarian’s assistant is played with great humor by Lindsay Nicole Chambers, who is also an extremely capable dancer. Jason Tam is a great surprise as Xander, a political blogger who is drawn out of his shell to share his incredible dance skills by Lysistrata. Tam and Murin share a sweet chemistry as their friendship progresses and their duet, “Hold On,” is so endearing that the clichés in the lyrics can be overlooked.
While the cast is certainly talented and likeable, the real highlight of Lysistrata Jones for me was the dancing. Knechtges’s choreography smoothly blends cheerleading step and basketball moves, resulting in athletic, appealing numbers that still further the plot and enhance the character development in ways that Valley-Girl language might not.
With a book by Douglas Carter Beane, who somehow transformed Xanadu from a movie flop to a Broadway hit four years ago, Lysistrata Jones has a great time making fun of itself. Several references are made to the idea that Aristophanes’ story is still being read and performed in the twentieth century, and numerous technological jokes are made as well (so much fun is poked at the iPhone I couldn’t help but wonder if they had purchased advertising space in the Playbill).
There are few surprises in the plot of Lysistrata Jones. The ending is predictable – I myself spotted it a mile away – and while the characters are more than entertaining, they do not linger with you after the curtain falls. But I left the theater feeling no guilt about the calories you may have consumed while watching this sweet and frothy treat. I probably burned them all off laughing, anyway.