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Lysistrata Jones

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Though it was initially titled Give It Up when it was performed in Dallas, Texas in 2010, by the time it arrived in New York in 2011 Douglas Carter Beane’s musical had been re-titled Lysistrata Jones. After playing Off-Broadway for six months, it transferred to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre, where, in spite of favorable reviews, it closed after only a month.

Derived from the Aristophanes’ antediluvian comedy, Lysistrata, where upstart Greek women withhold intimacies from their men as a protest against the long-lasting Peloponnesian War,– Lysistrata Jones is now a musical-comedy. Composed by Lewis Flinn (with lyrics by Beane) it has been updated to modern times.

Now, Anaheim’s Chance Theater is staging Lysistrata Jones in its west coast debut. Under Kari Hayter’s energetic direction, along with Kelly Todd’s calorie-burning choreography and Rod Bagheri’s musical direction (of a four-piece, onstage band), it comes to life in all its comedic sexuality. Beane’s version of this Greek classic places the action on the campus of Athen’s University, where the school’s basketball team has been on a cursed, and seemingly unending, losing streak.

When cheerleader Lysistrata Jones (soprano Devon Hadsell in an endearing and exhaustive portrayal) proposes that the entire cheerleading squad withhold affections from the team players, a gender-based tease-fest and rivalry is set into grinding, thrusting musical motion.

With a dozen committed performers singing and dancing over two-acts, in two-hours and ten-minutes, we witness over two-dozen song and dance routines played out on Christopher Scott Murillo’s basketball court-like scenic design, under Matt Schieicher’s stadium-like lighting motif,  aided by Ryan Brodkin’s pristine sound engineering, and Bradley Lock’s cute collegiate costuming. What’s more, the action moves along like lightning on the court, punctuated with bouncy comedy and titillating sexual innuendo (it’s not a show for children).

Kudos to the players of Lysistrata Jones; each has an abundance of game. The classically-trained Hadsell sets the bar high as Lyssie J (as she is referred to by other characters). Her solo rendition of "Where Am I Now" resonates with human emotion as if it were inspired by an angel of affect.

Still, Camryn Zelinger (she’s one formidable Hetaira, with pipes that blast), J.D. Driskill (Driskill’s nuanced interpretation of "When She Smiles" is winning), Robert Wallace, Ashley Arlene Nelson (Nelson is filled with brashness and chutzpa as Robin), Michael Dashefsky, Darian Archie, Klarissa Mesee, Danielle Rosario, Chelsea Baldree, Ricky Wagner, and Jackson Tobiska all hold their own and then some in this physically demanding production. And though the story is meant to be inspirational – the company sung finale, "Give It Up," underscores the show’s can-do attitude – there are few things more inspirational than a consummate cast of triple-threat talents getting a staging just right. That’s what the Chance has achieved with Lysistrata Jones.

Lysistrata Jones christens the theater’s new, and newly named, space – Chance Theater at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center– and continues through March 9. The new venue is located at 5522 East La Palma Avenue, Anaheim. Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (714)777-3033. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.ChanceTheater.com.

 

Spotlight

LA Drama Critics Address the 99-Seat Theatre Controversy

A Statement Concerning the Proposed Equity Changes to Los Angeles Theater

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle views the impending changes of policy concerning the small theaters of the greater Los Angeles area with alarm. We are concerned that the inevitable result of such changes will be a drastic reduction in the amount and quality of local theater. Indeed, we foresee what could be the virtual demise of Los Angeles as a leading incubator of plays and theater of innovation and diversity.

As critics, we are the front lines of the audience. Thus, we are keenly aware of the importance of small theaters and the actors who perform at them to the cultural ecosystem of Los Angeles as a major metropolitan center for the arts. Our institutional theaters and touring roadshows provide a valuable and popular service, but they alone do not and cannot provide the vast spectrum of forms of expression which a great city requires. Within that spectrum, live theater plays an essential role.

Under current proposals, nearly all of the winners of our Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence over the past dozen years – our highest honor – would be threatened with closure or, at best, severely curtailed activities. A majority of the shows recognized in our annual nominations and awards would likely have never been produced. Worse, the future would promise a vastly constricted, less diverse, less venturesome, less exciting theater scene.

 

The cultural loss would be incalculable, affecting the hundreds of productions staged annually in Los Angeles. The economic loss of all the businesses interdependent on that production output is calculable, but even without the numbers being run, we believe the net impact on the city could be catastrophic. If not of the order of magnitude of the recent threatened port closure, it is analogous in import and effect.

 

The inner workings of an artists’ association, like the management of a corporation, are not the public’s business unless or until the impact of those actions has a material adverse effect on civic life, the general welfare, the region’s economic well-being, or a city’s core identity. At that point, an association’s practices become an appropriate matter for intense public concern. In the current situation, it is of critical importance that discussion and debate concerning these developments take place openly and extensively in the public sphere by all affected stakeholders. The goal is a healthier, more diverse society that provides greater opportunity for all, including the freedom of artists to develop their talents as they believe themselves to be best served.

The current situation is urgent and dire. When an historic piece of eminent architecture is destroyed, a natural resource despoiled, or a species goes extinct, the loss is irreplaceable. Once the infrastructure that undergirds the best of Los Angeles small theater is destroyed, it cannot, realistically, be resurrected. By the time the pain is finally felt and the general outcry heard, the possibility of effective action will have already been long foreclosed.

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle urges all stakeholders in the cultural, civic and economic health of the region to involve themselves in learning about the issues and consequences of the proposals currently on the table. The Mayor, the City Council and the Board of Supervisors need to consider the economic ramifications. Foundations and opinion leaders must consider the changes’ potential impact on their missions. Major media must contribute to the disciplined and thoughtful public discourse, even as social media air opinions on all sides. All of these stakeholders have a role to play in a civic crisis, and make no mistake, a crisis is what we are facing. Moreover, it is a crisis whose quiet and parochial buildup has served to sidestep public attention and debate. Very soon, it may be too late.