Thoughts on “Lysistrata Jones” Preview @ The Walter Kerr Theatre, 11/21/11

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.

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12 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Lysistrata Jones” Preview @ The Walter Kerr Theatre, 11/21/11

  1. I’ll be honest, the original Lysistrata was crazy and annoying (in my opinion). So when I heard about this “remake” I was less than enthused. Somehow I’m not surprised that it was awful. It was NOT on my list of “to see” shows for this year. Now the question is how long will it actually hang on?

  2. good lord, the curtain says “EST 411 BC” not, “411 BC.” And it’s a joke. It’s totally clear it takes place in the present, since the very second scene of the show takes place in a modern university library where the TA gives our main character the original Aristophanes play. It is this classical comedy that gives our current hero her idea to help the basketball team finally start to care about winning a game. to feign confusion at what is perfectly and reasonably clear is a shame.

  3. i am pleased that you were so generous in your comments. The only thing I thought at the end was that this is worse than “In My Life.”

  4. I love how involved in your are in writing this article when you obviously did not pay any attention to the show at all. Like the above reviewer said, the curtain says EST 411 B.C., referencing the date of the original Lysistrata. So now I know you can’t pay attention. Secondly, assuming this is possible for someone so structured and uptight as you are, can you just enjoy a funny and witty show? This show is not going to change your life, make you recycle, or make you find the love of your life. This show is meant to lighten your spirits, make you laugh and have a fricken good time on Broadway. So many of the shows today try to make you a different person, which is fine, but Lysistrata Jones is just a show to make you forget about the deeper “meaning of life” and just have a good time and laugh. So I hope you enjoyed analyzing every part of the show. The rest of us will be enjoying ourselves over here.

  5. Dolores- I always try to check my theatre snobbery at the door at any show. I happen to be a fan of Douglas Carter Beane and am proud to be in the minority that loved Xanadu. Sister Act was absolute fluff, but I enjoyed it just fine. The problem is that I did not find this show to be either funny or witty. I laughed out loud once during the whole thing. I will also say that the monday performance I attended was heavily papered with “friends and family” of the cast (I could hear many of them talking about which cast members they know at intermission), but the reaction from the paying customers was as indifferent as me. I actually felt bad for the cast who tried their hardest to get the crowd up on the feet to dance and clap at the end of the show, but nobody was taking the bait. I don’t need a show that will make me feel like changing my political views. However, I need a show that makes me FEEL. Happy, sad, whatever. This show just left me bored and indifferent.

    1. If the show left you bored and indifferent, then you should have just said that. Stop trying to be McSnarky pants or Michael Reidel and be yourself. As for checking your “snobbery at the door” it is clear you haven’t. You are quick to reference its success “off-off-Broadway” and that it “doesn’t belong in a 1000 seat house.” First, as if it matters, the Gym at Judson is considered off-Broadway (like the smallest of the New World Stages), and second why does the number of seats determine a show’s worth and where it belongs? So the dinky place (I believe it opened with 69 seats) that had The Fantasticks for 35+ years makes that show less of a classic? The only people who need be concerned with numbers of seats are the producers of the show and the people who own the place.

      Maybe what you mean is that you think the show doesn’t hold enough production value for the full price ticket you bought. And perhaps that is a valid point, as I, too, hate when I don’t feel like I got my money’s worth. Of course, that begs the question – especially of someone so quick to judge how things work “in this age of the Occupy movement” – why did you ever pay full price for this or any show? Are you a closet 1%er only pays full price for Broadway shows? In this “age of discount ticketing” that is irresponsible for someone who left his theatre snobbery at the door. Of course, 3rd row center seats are generally Premium these days, or at least full regular price. By the way, Broadway or off or off-off, the view from “3rd row center” is for the most part the same, no matter how many seats are behind you.

      It is difficult to take your review seriously since half of it is based on an error YOU made when reading the show curtain. And then to respond with that theatre snobbery comment makes it laughable. You are a snob through and through – I should know, I was once just like you. I would have never gone to the Gym at Judson a few years ago. But boy am I glad I did. Good theatre is everywhere, not just Times Square. And you talk about being a closet Xanadu and Legally Blonde fan – I’m a fan of both, but I’m not in the closet about either. Is there shame in liking those? I hope not, since the Internet is forever and you outted yourself! Instead, learn to be a closeted open-minded theater FAN. You’ll find that closet full, too. Sadly, more and more of us are going into hiding these days…

  6. Saw this last night … You were spot in your assessment. And I agree with your call of the show as the worst thing on Broadway. It’s such a shame since it was so well-received when it premiered off-off Broadway. What show did those critics see? How will those same critics view the Broadway version? … The best part about the show is the 30-second TV ad, which is cute and fun and made me want to see it. What a fraud.

  7. This is a shame to read… I had hoped this would be the Xanadu/Book of Mormon (“funny-as-hell”/”frontronner”) of the season. If they record a cast album, which I think they probably will regardless of the show’s outcome, I will give it a listen.

  8. Word on the street is that the Kerr theatre is already shopping for backup shows to replace Lysistrata, as the writing is on the wall. It feels good to be right, I can’t lie.

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