Review: Lysistrata Jones

© Joan Marcus

The near demise of commercial off-Broadway has resulted in a plethora of unsuitable Broadway productions of tiny shows that look awfully wan in big theaters. The latest example is Lysistrata Jones, originally presented by the enterprising Transport Group on the basketball court of the Judson Memorial Church gymnasium. This musical updating of Aristophanes’ comedy—about a group of college cheerleaders who decide to withhold sex from their boyfriends on the perennially losing Athens University basketball team until they win a game—benefited mightily from its unique venue. On the stage of the Walter Kerr Theatre, it seems way out of its league.   


 Resembling a special-themed episode of Glee, the show--featuring a book by Douglas Carter Beane (responsible for such similarly silly musicals as Sister Act and Xanadu) and music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn--is more notable for the charged energy of its youthful ensemble than its creative elements. And it wears out its comedic welcome long before the conclusion of its two hour-plus running time.


Still, there’s some fun to be had, beginning with the outrageous presence of the big-bodied Liz Mikel as the show’s acerbic narrator. Beane’s book, gleaning most of its vulgar humor from the overcharged sex drives of both the male and female characters, has a suitably burlesque quality. And while the score boasts few memorable songs, such numbers as “Right Now” and the climactic “Give It Up!” display a raucous energy.


Director Dan Knechtges (Xanadu, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) keeps things moving at a suitably frantic pace, and his choreography, influenced by both cheerleading routines and basketball moves, is consistently inventive.


Among the ensemble, the standouts are Patti Murin, who provides just the right amount of perky sexiness as the title character; Jason Tam, very amusing as her unlikely, social media-obsessed love interest; and Josh Segarra, goofily endearing as the head jock.


The staging has been reconfigured for the Kerr’s proscenium stage, and some lavish props, such as a giant neon sign advertising a bordello, have been added to little effect. Most detrimentally, the sound has been jacked up to deafening levels, with the result that many of the lyrics are barely discernible.


In its former home, tix for Lysistrata Jones topped out at $60. On Broadway, they go up to $130, or $147 if you want aisle seats—and that’s not even counting the “premium” tickets, which are $199. Take a cue from the female characters in the show—don’t give it up.        


Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St. 800-432-7250.