Lysistrata Jones, an uneven but enjoyably silly new musical by playwright Douglas Carter Beane and songwriter Lewis Finn, could be described as a combination of the perky adolescent spirit, catchy pop music and hip-hop dance choreography of High School Musical with bits and pieces of the plot of Aristophanes’ Greek comedy Lysistrata.
Lysistrata Jones (Patti Murin, who delivers a breakout performance while capturing the character’s sweet nature) is a new transfer student at contemporary Athens University, where the male basketball team can’t seem to win a game. After reading a plot summary of Lysistrata she found on the Internet, she convinces her gal pals, all of whom are hot cheerleaders except for a nerd she found in the library, to abstain from having sex with their boyfriends until the guys can prove themselves as athletes and win a game.
It seems inappropriate for any show to use “Lysistrata” in its title and have absolutely nothing to do with anti-war politics. Just eight years ago, hundreds of readings of the play were popping up as protests against the Iraq War. But judging the musical on its own merits, Lysistrata Jones is unabashed fun with athletic choreography, surprisingly good melodies and a whole lot of campy humor.
What is perhaps most memorable about this off-Broadway production, which is staged by Dan Knechtges and produced by the Transport Group, is that it takes place in an actual gymnasium in the basement of the Judson Memorial Church. Audience members sit on chairs stacked like bleachers. And while many scenes are staged in varying locations, it is all framed around the athletic atmosphere of a real basketball court.
A few of the scenes don’t lead anywhere, such as a gay romance that blossoms between two of the basketball players who share a passion for the 1997 film Batman & Robin (the one where the Batsuit has nipples – seriously) and a lengthy detour to a whore house, although Alex Wyse provides the funniest impersonation of a dumb white jock trying to act ghetto I’ve ever seen. The narrations by Hetaira (the commanding Liz Mikel) are also unnecessary and take away from the kids. The sound design is also a mess in this space.
But even as it is, Lysistrata Jones could prove to be an irresistible blend of youthful energy, sex appeal and witty humor packed with some hearty inspiration from the Greeks.