Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn comic musical about a sex strike on a college campus inspires gales of laughter.
The show transforms Aristophanes' Lysistrata, which centers on the sex strike the women of Athens stage in order to stop the Peloponnesian War, into a merry college caper. Here, the cheerleaders of Athens U., led by the title character (played with winning pluck and innate intelligence by Patti Murin), announce they won't "give it up" until their basketball player boyfriends break their team's hopeless losing streak. Abetting the girls' in their cause is Beane's cleverly crafted muse/narrator, Hetaira (a powerhouse Liz Mikel), who also happens to be the madam at the Eros Motor Lodge.
The musical also contains a couple of romantic foils for Jones and her dim boyfriend, basketball team captain Mick (Josh Segarra): Robin (the consistently hysterical Lindsay Nicole Chambers), the angry poetry-slamming librarian who helps inspire Jones' plan, and Xander (an endearing and immensely graceful Jason Tam), a nerdy blogger whom Jones convinces to serve as the team's mascot. Part of what makes the musical succeed is that audiences begin to root for the unlikely couples that form from this quartet, particularly Jones and Xander. (Murin and Tam share a remarkable chemistry together.)
It's not only heartstrings that the show plucks, it also inspires gales of laughter, from its utter and gleeful silliness. For instance, the cheerleaders find Hetaira after Jones Googles "whores" on her iPhone, and two of the young men's fascination with Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin has completely giddy ramifications. And yet, there's also a smartness to the proceedings as bits of Walt Whitman's poetry creep in at the most unlikely places and surprisingly, a quote from Emma Goldman inspires one of the show's biggest laughs.
Finn's eclectic score, which contains volcanic R&B and funk numbers, smooth pop ballads, and even some rap and contemporary Latin, is fortunately so well-crafted that it almost manages to withstand Tony Meola's often too-aggressive sound design.Alongside the central performances is a notable turn from LeQuet Sharnell, who brings sparkle to Mhyrinne, an African-American cheerleader in love with a Caucasian boy (Alex Wyse) who has comically adopted cloying cliché ghetto vernacular. She also rocks out when she plays the hooker he visits at Hetaira's.
In addition, Max Kumangai and Teddy Boye tackle an underdeveloped subplot for their characters with sweetness and abandon. And though Uardo and Cleonice are both terribly un-PC portraits of Latinos, Alexander Aguilar and Kat Nejat bring the characters to life with infinite care.
As director, Dan Knechtges keeps the action flowing briskly within the confines of Allen Moyer's appropriate homespun scenic design that looks like a million bucks under Michael Gottlieb's eye-popping lighting design.
More importantly, as choreographer, his work is simply astounding. Not only does he bring elements of street dance and old-time Broadway razzle-dazzle to the numbers, he also manages to find ways in which basketball moves can be translated into high energy dance. And then, there's the moment that he hysterically incorporates an homage to Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" into the action. It's the sort of winking satire that would make Aristophanes smile.