Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Less Than a Year, 'Lysistrata Jones' Goes From Broadway to a College Production, Cheerfully

Theater Spotlight

Lysistrata Jones
a musical by Douglas Carter Beane
with music/lyrics by Lewis Flinn
Roosevelt  University - Chicago College of Performing Arts, Patrick O'Malley Theatre
Run Ended

Over the years, I have seen a fair share of “Broadway musicals” that have ranged from “good” to “outstanding,” yet never actually played on Broadway. Some of these have been considerably better than musicals I’ve actually seen on Broadway, in New York.

I’ve also become aware that “opening” a musical on Broadway can be as much a matter of financing, timing and perceived commercial potential as it is a quality judgment about the work itself.

Still, though it is an inexact barometer, a musical (or play, but not the focus here) running on Broadway is in my mind, analogous to a baseball player playing in the major leagues. It’s—theoretically—the highest level of theater, with the best actors, singers, dancers, directors, musicians, set design, costumes, etc.

So I typically pay attention to new musicals opening on Broadway, but unless I knew and then forgot that I did, I didn’t know that a musical named Lysistrata Jones bowed on the Great White Way in December 2011.

And closed in January 2012.

That is until I noticed that, last weekend, the Chicago College for the Performing Arts (part of Roosevelt University) was staging the Midwest Premiere. My curiosity piqued despite the strange name, I discovered that reviews for the show had generally been pretty solid on Broadway and had been very good during the preceding Off-Broadway run.

So with tickets less than it costs to see a movie, I decided to check it out.

As with community theater, I don’t feel right reviewing college productions; especially, in this case, since the run has ended. Hence, there is no rating at top. But without getting into specifics about performances or the production—except where I can offer genuine kudos—I wanted to comment on the show itself.

With a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music & lyrics by Lewis Flinn, Lysistrata Jones is based on a comedy by Aristophanes from 411 BC called Lysistrata, in which the title character convinces the other women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers until they bring an end to the Peloponnesian War.

The musical’s action takes place in the modern day at Athens University, which seems to be in America and whose men’s basketball team is on a perennial losing streak.

So a perky cheerleader named Lysistrata Jones—impressively played and well-sung by Katherine de la Torre—convinces the other squad members to withhold sex from the players until the team wins a game.

It is a cute conceit whose deeper meaning seems to be about how one person can take action to fight the good fight against mass apathy.

I sufficiently enjoyed the show, though I can see why it wasn’t a Broadway smash. It isn’t bad and has some catchy songs and some nice humor, but is several wins shy of an undefeated season. To compare it to two shows of similar milieus—of which I’ve seen more professional productions, either on Broadway or on tour—Lysistrata Jones seems to be a solid step below Legally Blonde, the musical, but I enjoyed it a good bit more than Bring It On, the musical.

The way it was staged at Roosevelt’s Patrick O’Malley Theater, with a gym floor and actual basketball hoops being utilized, was rather fun. And in addition to strong work in the title role by de la Torre—who seemingly could adroitly step into the lead of Legally Blonde—Lexi Lyric was notably good as Hetaira, something of a goddess emcee for the entire proceedings.

Though the audience on Sunday afternoon was likely largely comprised of family and friends, the energetic cast well-deserved the standing ovation it received.

This may not have been a Broadway-level production, but didn’t leave me thinking that I really needed one to know what Lysistrata Jones is all about (the performance setting was particularly appropriate given the show’s college setting).

Having closed after just 30 official performances on Broadway, I doubt that Lysistrata Jones will be getting a national tour anytime soon. So it was cool to learn of it, and see it, so soon after its time in Times Square—its first staging anywhere was only in January 2010 in Dallas—and though it may not quite be a slam dunk, it's more winning than not.

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