Michael Riedel has written at length about the recent scramble by Broadway producers to find open theatres for their new shows. As many as a dozen productions are looking for a home on the “Great White Way”. Even some of the big names were almost left out in the cold, as the new vehicle for Broadway heavyweights Matthew Broderick and Kathleen Marshall, Nice Work If You Can Get It, looked like it might be in trouble until Funny Girl fell by the wayside last month, leaving an opening at the Imperial.
However, I’m here to deliver a bit of good news for those other producers, who are undoubtedly biting their fingernails…. The Walter Kerr Theatre should be open by Christmas!
Lysistrata Jones, the new musical from Douglas Carter Beane (Sister Act, Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed), is the season’s early front-runner for the “Glory Days Memorial Trophy” for the shortest run in Broadway history. An updated retelling of the Greek comedy, Lysistrata, the show centers around the plight of the Athens University basketball team, who hasn’t won a game in 30 years. A perky cheerleader and revolutionary named Lysistrata Jones tries to change their fortune by convincing the rest of her squad to not “give it up” until the boys wins a game. The show had a well received tryout at the 100 seat Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square that was successful enough to convince producers to transfer to Broadway.
And oh, where do I even start with this…
First of all, the press release for the show promises that Lysistrata Jones “takes student activism to a whole new level”. Herein lies the first problem. In an age of the “Occupy” movement, where young people are getting pepper sprayed in the face for protesting a hierarchy of power that they feel is oppressive to the “99 percent”, it feels a little shallow to sit through a two-and-a-half hour musical about college athletics, packaged as a tale about “activism”. Of course, the production team cannot be blamed over the current political landscape. It’s more an issue of “the wrong show at the wrong time”. However, there are numerous other problems that do fall on their shoulders.
Case in point, it’s completely unclear to me as to when this show is really taking place. I mean, I walked into a curtain with an Athens University logo that read “411 B.C.”. Yet, all of the students are carrying Macbooks, and spitting out “jokes” about Siri and Herman Cain. So is the show set in the present day? Is our heroine using the tale of Lysistrata for inspiration on how to fix the basketball team? Or is this show really set in 411 BC and we are to believe that we are watching a different spin on Aristophanes’ characters? If it’s the latter, why are they making so many references to 2011 pop culture?
The same device is used (far more effectively) in Godspell, where they riff on Steve Jobs, Lindsay Lohan, and Donald Trump. At least in the case of that show, they establish early on that we are seeing a present day retelling of the parables and applying them to life in 2011. In Lysistrata Jones, the pop culture references do little to advance the story or prove a point. They just seem forced in to get cheap laughs for a script that isn’t that funny on its own.
Perhaps I would have better understood the context of the show if I could have understood anything that happened in the first 15 minutes. Sadly, I was left to my own devices as 3rd row center wasn’t good enough to hear anything due to the muddiest sound mix ever. Shouldn’t this be fixed after 8 days of previews?? Liz Mikel, as the one-woman Greek chorus, Hetaira, was nearly inaudible as she raps through the opening number of the show.
If Mr. Beane, who successfully punched up the Sister Act book after its West End run, fails to work any magic with this script, the songs aren’t helping either. Almost every number in the first act of Lewis Flinn’s score sounds like that “Getcha Head In The Game” song from High School Musical. At one point, a character actually sung the lyric “What’s The Word? Tweety Bird”, which is just flat-out indefensible. The only two musical highlight’s are Lysistrata’s act one ballad “Where Am I Now?”, and the show’s closing number “Give It Up”, which is quite catchy. The rest of the songs are pedestrian, at best.
There are many instances over the last few seasons where great, veteran, stage actors, can lift up bad material. For instance, for all of it’s problems, I was able to still enjoy The Addams Family, due mostly to the work of Nathan Lane and Carolee Carmello. Brian D’arcy James and Sutton Foster made Shrek the Musical far more watchable in New York than it was with a less seasoned touring cast. Unfortunately, Lysistrata Jones does not have this luxury. Patti Murin, as the title character, has a nice voice and a perky personality, but she doesn’t have the star power to carry the show on her back. Josh Segerra, who has no Broadway resume to speak of, is a hard bodied, uninteresting, piece of wood as basketball captain, Mick. Lindsay Nicole Chambers, despite being a more capable performer, looks ten years older than the rest of the cast, making her the Lyssie Jones equivalent of Gabrielle Carteris in 90210. The only cast member that shines in their role is Ms. Mikel, who doubles as the narrator and madam of the local brothel. She gets the most consistent laughs quite honestly deserves to be in a better show than this.
At the end of the day, “Lyssie Jones” will go down as the single worst show I’ve ever seen in New York. I have no problem with fluff pieces, as long as they are done well. I continue to be closet fans of Xanadu and Legally Blonde. Lysistrata Jones lacks the charm and fun of both of those shows. It’s the first time I have ever paid full price for a Broadway show and wanted to leave during the second act. While the reviews for the off-off Broadway version of this show were favorable, perhaps it would have made more sense to move the production to an Off-Broadway venue like New World Stages, because it’s not a show that is a fit for a 1000 seat house.
I will set the over/under for a closing date at January 3rd and take the under.