Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Chance Theater's Energetic Cast is Giving it Up in Lysistrata Jones

L-R: J.D. Driskill, Jackson Tobiska and Devon Hadsell
Photos by Photo by Thamer Bajjali, True Image Studio

Not much happens in Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Finn’s short-lived Broadway musical Lysistrata Jones. A group of Athens U. college girls decides to stop having sex with their basketball player boyfriends until they break their 30-year losing streak and win a game, which they do by the end of the musical. That’s it in a nutshell. Calling it a “sex jihad” is, I’m sure, supposed to make it seem smart and contemporary but the modern references in Beane’s book largely drift off into out of bounds territory with nary a chuckle.  

The musical is a loose adaptation of Aristophanes’ Greek comedy, Lysistrata, about a group of women in Ancient Greece who went on a sex strike until their men ended the Peloponnesian War. Both perpetuate male/female sexual stereotypes yet Aristophanes’ work is a classic representation of early Greek theatre with a satirical edge. Lysistrata Jones, on the other hand, is just silly and superficial.

Finn’s belt-heavy pop songs are the kind you’d sing along with on the radio but within the context of a musical they all sound the same. Rather than using them to move the action forward, they return again and again in multiple reprises that drive home what we already know. String the titles end to end and the first Act could have been musicalized in one song: “Right Now,” I said “Right Now,” “Just Once” I want to “Change The World” so “No More Givin’ It Up,” just “Lay Low” but “I Don’t Think So” so “You Go Your Way” cause I don’t know Where Am I Now.” The second act has even more repetition with another reprise of “Right Now,” another of You Go Your Way” and a new “Hold On” that gets a reprise later in the Act. I kept wondering why all the reprises. 

What Chance Theater does have going for it, however, is a youthful cast that dances, cheers, and shoots hoops nonstop during Kelly Todd’s athletic choreography. Her moves take full advantage of Christopher Scott Murillo’s basketball court design with its gymnasium and pep rally-ready musicians perched on an upper platform above the main action.

Vocals are mixed, with most handling the mid-ranges of the songs easier than high notes. Camryn Zelinger (as a very dry, very funny goddess, Hetaira) is the one to watch. She’s the sexy Greek vixen whose omniscient presence gives courage to Lyssie J (Devon Hadsell) and helps teach the boys a lesson during a crucial event at the local whore house.

Hadsell is a likable fresh-faced ingénue, and J.D. Driskill (Mick Jackson), who possesses a lovely singing voice, plays the hunky team captain with confidence & swagger, but they have to work incredibly hard to give Beane’s stereotypical characters dimension. For the rest of director Kari Hayter’s ensemble, it’s mainly attitude and broad strokes, both in action and accents. As for audience appeal, with a young cast in place and given the subject matter, this ones sure to be most successful with a younger collegiate crowd.

This is the first production for Chance Theater in its new home, the recently-named Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center located on the opposite end of the block from its old location. It’s a terrific venue that should provide the company with plenty of opportunities to expand its theatre options for audiences and continue to help them push the boundaries as they are wont to do. I look forward to seeing what they tackle next.
Ellen Dostal, Musicals in LA

Michael Dashefsky, Darian Archie and Ricky Wagner

Ashley Arlene Nelson, Chelsea Baldree, Camryn Zelinger
and Danielle Rosario

L-R: Klarissa Mesee, Danielle Rosario and Devon Hadsell

L-R: Klarissa Mesee, Devon Hadsell and Ashley Arlene Nelson 

Through March 9, 2014
Chance Theater
5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA 92807
Tickets: (714) 777-3033 or

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