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College can lead to the dreaded “Freshman 15” weight-gain after gorging on nothing but soda, sweets and starchy buffets. Thankfully, fun and frothy musicals do not have the same results but instead make you giddy with delight. Lysistrata Jones, the new lighthearted, campy musical comedy, might even make you as giddy as a cheerleader.
Lysistrata Jones, an Athens University transfer student, wants to inspire the basketball team to win a game after 30 years of straight losses. She forms a cheerleading team and they make a pact to withhold sexual acts until their boyfriends from the basketball team put forth the effort and turn the team around. Despite a disappointing book [Editor's note: based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata], the 12-person ensemble cast shines with excellent performances and explosive musical numbers.
The weakest link is the book by Douglas Carter Beane. For a veteran playwright and book writer who has turned out some of the strongest comedic writing in the industry (The Little Dog Laughed ; Xanadu), Beane falls short with easy jokes that subscribe to nearly every stereotype in American culture: macho jocks, ditzy cheerleaders, awkward bookish girls, introverted computer geeks, and so on. Rarely is he able to make the characters move beyond these prescribed stereotypes, so they often appear one-dimensional.
Occasionally, Beane branches out to popular culture references such as Siri for iPhone, but these attempts do not elevate it beyond the level of a pretentious frat-house version of High School Musical.
Shining at the center of the Athens University universe is Broadway’s newest star, Patti Murin (Xanadu) who has the natural charm and confidence of a seasoned pro. Her voice fills the Walter Kerr Theatre with a sweet but powerful sound, which perfectly suits the petite blond who was an actual cheerleader at Syracuse University.
Murin goes beyond the stereotypical characterizations and presents a well-rounded heroine who shows vulnerability, fear, determination and, above all, a driving force to inspire those around her. The audience cheers on this cheerleader from beginning to end.
Lyssie’s mentor throughout the show is Hetaira, a brassy one-woman Greek chorus, played by Liz Mikel in her powerful Broadway debut. Mikel garners plenty of laughs, but her strongest suit is her robust voice, best displayed in the funky song "I Don’t Think So".
Conversely, Lyssie’s boyfriend Mick protests her activism. With swagger and a laissez-faire attitude, Josh Segarra also makes a very strong Broadway debut, especially considering the flat writing for his character. His strong dancing and smooth voice give him a boy-band look and sound perfectly suited for his varsity basketball captain role.
Along the way, Lyssie encounters the two best characters in the show: nerdy library aide Robin (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) and equally nerdy activist-blogger Xander (Jason Tam). Chambers (Legally Blonde ; Hairspray) and Tam (A Chorus Line) truly shine and Murin’s scenes with each are the best of the book scenes.
The ensemble of basketball players and cheerleaders provide enthusiastic performances in spite of the one-dimensional material. They particularly make the dance-filled musical numbers the highlights of the show, with one hit after another. The fun, infectious pop score includes girl-power anthems like "No More Giving It Up" reminiscent of the Spice Girls, especially when wearing spirited cheerleading uniforms and tongue-in-cheek sexy combat costumes designed by David C. Woolard and Thomas Charles LeGalley.
Veteran choreographer Dan Knechtges (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee ; Xanadu) proves himself in his directorial debut with giddy grin-inducing dances complete with choreographed dribbling and passing and fast-paced footwork. If the dance numbers don’t have you smiling, nothing on Broadway can.
Actual basketball hoops and hardwood floors add authenticity to the set, though not quite to the degree of the show’s pre-Broadway venue, The Gym at Judson, which is an actual gymnasium. Allen Moyer’s bi-level set is designed almost like a university-inspired life-size dollhouse – the band on the top level, the action below – and Michael Gottlieb’s vibrant and youthful lighting has a rock-star qualit
Lysistrata Jones is a lovely buffet of the best of Broadway but there is one stinking dish that keeps it from living up to its fullest potential: the book. Campy comedy does not require a show to rely on tasteless jokes. Amidst all the goodies, Douglas Carter Beane needs to include a bit more substance, or else all we are left with is a sugar-sweet taste and a bellyache.
Photos : Joan Marcus
Through January 8, 2012
Walter Kerr Theatre - 219 W. 48th Street, New York
Run time: 2 hours, 10 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission
Book by Douglas Carter Beane; music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn; directed and choreographed by Dan Knechtges; scenic design by Allen Moyer; costume design by David C. Woolard and Thomas Charles LeGalley; lighting design by Michael Gottlieb; sound design by Tony Meola; hair design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer.
With: Patti Murin (Lysistrata Jones), Liz Mikel (Hetaira), Josh Segarra (Mick), Jason Tam (Xander), Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Robin), Alexander Aguilar (‘Uardo), Ato Blankson-Wood (Tyllis), Katie Boren (Lampito), Kat Nejat (Cleonice), LaQuet Sharnell (Myrrhine), Teddy Toye (Harold), Alex Wyse (Cinesias).