Los Angeles / Regional Theater Review: LYSISTRATA JONES (Chance Theater)

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by Tony Frankel on February 26, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

BASKETBALL MUSICAL IS ONE BIG PENALTY

Klarissa Mesee, Danielle Rosario and Devon Hadsell in LYSISTRATA JONES at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.You wanna know how great the Chance Theater is? They actually made it a palatable experience to sit through one of the most half-baked and frivolous new musical comedies I could imagine. With only a dribble of sophisticated wit and attractive songs, book-writer Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu) and his husband, songwriter Lewis Flinn, have updated Aristophanes’ comedy, Lysistrata. Instead of women withholding sex until their men shut down the Peloponnesian War, the optimistic Lyssie and some boneheaded chicks at present-day Athens University decide it’s “No More Givin’ It Up” until their basketball-playing boyfriends win a game.

Klarissa Mesee, Devon Hadsell and Ashley Arlene Nelson in LYSISTRATA JONES at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.At first glance, Beane’s book supplies some amusing fare, but once our weak smiles fade into obscurity, it becomes annoyingly clear that the jokey one-liners–awash with topical references—are not in service to a more substantial outing. With no attempt at insight or depth until late in the second act, the creators go beyond the realm of fluffy parody or knowing camp into downright inanity; it’s pandering and puerile, with some impotent melodrama tossed in so that each character learns a lesson After School Special-style. Whatevs.

Flinn’s songs begin vigorously with an opening number that cleverly intertwines cheers, rap, and exposition, but the fun hook of “Right Now” becomes tiring. Soon, we are beset with bubblegum pop and simplistic, bland, generic tunes with murky dramatic intent and repetitive American Idol hooks. One of the cutest numbers, “Hold On,” repeats its hook to the point that I could no longer hold on.

Robert Wallace and Devon Hadsell in LYSISTRATA JONES at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.The spirited Glee / High School Musical mentality, even with Chance’s astounding pro-team spirit, ultimately becomes dispiriting. Beane is satirizing stereotypes (the nerd, the Valley Girl) and multiculturalism (African-American, Asian, Latino, gay, etc.)  but his characters are superficially drawn.

Talk about a cast that got game! There’s a fair amount of posturing (as per the script), and this supposed satire might—and that’s a mighty big “might”—have fared better had director Kari Hayter reigned in her electrified cast, all of whom could use more authentic portrayals. Yet I can’t rave enough about the winning 12-member ensemble, one which outshines even the most professional of Equity productions. The powerhouse vocalists delightfully execute Kelly Todd’s  rock ‘em, sock ‘em, exuberant choreography without once gasping for breath.

Michael Dashefsky, Darian Archie and Ricky Wagner in LYSISTRATA JONES at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.It would probably be easier memorizing the OED than remembering characters’ names, but I especially enjoyed the mohawk-sporting Jackson Tobiska as Cinesias (Kuh-NEE-see-us), the privileged white boy who behaves ghetto; the dreamy voice of J.D. Driskill as Lyssie’s boyfriend Mick, a jock with the soul of a poet; the deadpan Camryn Zelinger as the narrator and madam Hetaira of the Eros Motor Lodge brothel (and the poor girl had to deliver such clunky lyrics and stunning rhymes as “Have mercy, good God, we got a sex jihad”); and Robert Wallace, just for being irresistible as “liberal blogger” and team mascot Xander. Whether by directorial decision or script mandate, it seemed odd that Uardo (WAHR-doh) speaks Spanglish, but Michael Dashefsky plays him with no accent whatsoever.

J.D. Driskill, Jackson Tobiska and Devon Hadsell in LYSISTRATA JONES at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.I appreciate that the Chance has access to Fullerton College talent, and needs a youthful musical for marketing purposes, but this estimable company deserves—and should pick—better material. It is most telling that Lysistrata Jones closed after 30 Broadway performances two years ago, and is just now receiving its West Coast Premiere. Thank the Theater Gods that Chance is putting on She Loves Me later in the season. Until then, I’ll quote Hetaira and the Girls: “I Don’t Think So.”

Ashley Arlene Nelson, Chelsea Baldree, Camryn Zelinger and Danielle Rosario in LYSISTRATA JONES at the Chance Theater in Anaheim. Photo by Doug Catille.photos by Thamer Bajjali, True Image Studio
& Doug Catill

Lysistrata Jones
Chance Theater
Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center
5522 E. La Palma Ave in Anaheim
scheduled to end on March 9, 2014
for tickets, call (714) 777.3033
or visit www.ChanceTheater.com

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