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.