Greek mythology, camp, and Douglas Carter Beane have made what feels like a less-than-ecstatic reunion in Lysistrata Jones. Those with fond memories of Xanadu are likely to feel something is missing from this current effort, but comparisons aside, Lysistrata has some charms of her own.
Chief among the production's attractions is Patti Murin. Murin seems born to play Lysistrata Jones, and it's unfortunate for her that the character wasn't written into a better musical. Adorable and endearing, Murin develops her own unique take on the stereotype of the dumb, blond cheerleader, one that is more driven, emotionally engaged -- and, naivety over the theatrical origin of her own name withstanding -- not entirely dumb. Murin capitalizes on cute, keeping the audience informed of her every changing emotion as they're clearly displayed on her expressive face with a mesmerizing fluidity. It is difficult to take your eyes off of her, which is good because there are barren moments, particularly in the first act, when she is the sole Promethean spark on that stage.
What initially comes across as a lack of commitment and borderline apathy from the majority of the cast turns out to be an intentional, message-driven direction, with a fully revealed theme in Act 2 that somewhat works, despite the fact that it comes across as a tacked-on afterthought. Blatantly underdeveloped racial stereotypes and caricatures are plentiful, while jokes that land are significantly scarcer. Book writer Douglas Carter Beane seems aware of this lack of comedic punch and tries to compensate by occasionally digging for depth that the piece just isn't in possession of. Composer Lewis Flinn waffles in a similarly misguided manner, throwing in out-of-place dramatic numbers that try to push these two-dimensional characters and scenarios into the third dimension and only succeeding in sounding somewhat reminiscent of Rent. Flinn musters a few catchy tunes, having greater success with the up-beat, but as a whole joins Beane in seeming to not have a clear vision of what they were going for or how to get there. As a result, the cast and director Dan Knechtges are left with the difficult task of providing confidence to a script and score that are understandably unsure of themselves.
Dan Knechtges aptly directs, and his choreography exhibits some very sweet cheer/dance combinations, though inspiration seems to have come easier with the roller skates of Xanadu, leaving Knechtges to bounce the basketball with a lot less poise and power. Aside from Murin, Jason Tam (Xander) and Liz Mikel (Hetaira) give the production's strongest performances, with Mikel providing some much-needed authority to this world of indifferent, loosely defined co-eds and Tam joining in with Murin to provide the musical's most fun and inspired moment with the song "Hold On." The rest of the cast comfortably blends into the appropriately simple and functional set, designed by Allen Moyer.
Lysistrata Jones proves to be an entertaining distraction with a second act that improves upon much of what's lacking in the first, so if you're willing to follow this musical through to intermission then you may as well come back after. This is not one for the ages, but you could do a lot worse if you're set on seeing a Broadway show this holiday season. - C. Jefferson Thom
Lysistrata Jones is at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, Manhattan.
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.