We gave it a B-
Ever wonder what happened to the crew from High School Musical after they went off to college? Well, the Off Broadway pop musical Lysistrata Jones suggests one answer: The guys started losing basketball games, all the time, and stopped even bothering to try to win. The girls remained perky, perhaps because they finally were hooking up with the guys. (No, this production wouldn’t be welcome on the Disney Channel — but it’s not as risque as you might expect. It’s more ABC Family material.)
Lysistrata Jones, which is running at the tiny gym of Greenwich Village’s Judson Memorial Church, is a curious, curious enterprise — a toothless update of the Aristophanes classic about a sex moratorium that bogs down with narrative incoherence and one-dimensional characterization. But it also boasts a mostly talented cast of young singers and dancers, a surprisingly hook-filled pop score by Lewis Flynn, and reliably hilarious one-liners by book writer Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed).
As the title character, Patti Murin is a perfect Elle Woods type, a cheerleader at Athens University who’s frustrated with the basketball team’s epic 30-year losing streak and the indifference of her hoops-playing boyfriend Mick (beefy but bland Josh Segarra). Inspired by Aristophanes, she rallies her cheer squad to deliver the guys an ultimatum: ”If you’re giving up, I’m not giving it up.”
Of course, in the Greek classic the women banded together in a sex moratorium to keep their men from waging war. In this retelling, the biggest shortcoming of modern men is…their inability to compete at sports. (Really?!?) The show’s basketball team and their cheerleader girlfriends are a multicultural group of shtick figures — there’s the heavily accented Latino couple, the white guy trying to act gangsta, the closeted gay couple, the booty-shaking black girl, and the jock who’s secretly drawn to the poetry of Robert Frost.
Everyone pairs up in the end, shuffled along the just-be-yourself guidelines familiar to Disney Channel audiences. But the characters aren’t even consistent: Robin, played by high-wattage scene-stealer Lindsay Nicole Chambers recalling a younger Kathy Griffin, is introduced as a poetry-slamming intellectual with decided Sapphic leanings — she has some of the show’s raunchier punchlines early on. But Robin ends up with one of the jocks and not a single misgiving about going straight or dumbing down for love (”I just used like not as a simile but as an odd verbal tic,” she boasts).
There is a kind of goofy charm to Lysistrata Jones, from director Dan Knechtges’ HSM-like choreography (complete with basketball dribbling) to the standout performances by Liz Mikel (in the thankless role of a local madam) and Jason Tam (as the liberal activist do-gooder guy who inexplicably ends up with our heroine). And Beane’s script is studded with quips, some delightfully topical: ”You’ll be hornier than the head of the IMF ordering room service.” It’s a shame that the whole show can’t maintain that level of wit and sophistication. B-
(Tickets: OvationTix.com or 866-811-4111)