After a successful run last summer at the tiny gym of Greenwich Village’s Judson Memorial Church, the goofy pop musical Lysistrata Jones has advanced to the big leagues of Broadway. (See EW’s original review here.) Why? I have no idea. It’s a little like a solid junior-high basketball team playing Madison Square Garden.
The show has its charms, particularly Lewis Flynn’s surprisingly hook-filled score, the reliably hilarious one-liners by book writer Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed), 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. (And Allen Moyer’s gymnasiumlike set only amplifies how much the production seems to have done on the cheap.)
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) to reversing the trend. Inspired by the classic Aristophanes comedy for which she’s named, 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 Beane’s 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 Jewish 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. One of the show’s more original characters — Jason Tam’s Xander, the liberal campus activist who inexplicably ends up with our heroine — seems out of place in this overly broad mix, and his early jokes don’t seem to connect with the Broadway audience. (However, Tam does get one of Flynn’s best compositions, the catchy aspirational anthem ”Hold On.”)
Director-choreographer Dan Knechtges’ reasonably well-paced production goes down very easily, thanks in no small measure to standout performances by Liz Mikel (in the thankless role of a local madam) and Lindsay Nicole Chambers (as a feminist bookworm who joins the cheerleaders). A dead ringer for Kathy Griffin, Chambers is a natural comic scene-stealer who makes her intellectual character endearing even as she ends up dumbing down to find love with one of the jocks. (”I just used like not as a simile but as an odd verbal tic,” she boasts.) Despite your better judgment, you too may find yourself warming to Lysistrata Jones. B
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)