Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Lysistrata Jones is a perfect show for the Studio Series at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). It's a small, lesser known musical with a medium-sized cast, and provides opportunities for the students to stretch themselves and the staff to be creative. In this case, the show itself is just so-so, but the production offers plenty in the way of performances and playful innovation, and the audience is treated to a worthwhile production (especially considering that tickets are free).
Lysistrata Jones is a modern musical adaptation of Aristophanes' ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, placing the action in current day at Athens University. In this version, the girlfriends of the players on the school's basketball team, which hasn't won a game in 30 years, decide to withhold sex from their beaus until they win a game, as an attempt to motivate the of men. The show played on Broadway in 2011 and, despite some positive reviews, closed quickly.
The book for the musical is by Douglas Carter Beane (Sister Act, Xanadu) and has its pros and cons. The adaptation to modern times, but with more than a few winks toward ancient Greece, is effective, and includes timely and timeless commentary on the differences between sex and love. Even better are his one-liners, with many very funny jokes contained in the show. There is also good use of a one-person Greek chorus in the form of the character Hetaira. On the downside, the story is very predictable (even to those not knowing Lysistrata), inconsistent in several plot points, and a bit too self-aware (as a musical) for its own good.
Lewis Flinn provides both the music and lyrics for the score. The generally amiable pop melodies and wordplay produce a score with no duds, but most of the songs are merely serviceable. While situationally apt, too few of the songs give much insight into the characters, especially in act one. The best songs are "Just Once," "Change the World," and "When She Smiles."
Director Emma Griffin provides active blocking and great use of the performance space. There are some very cute and well-suited directorial choices, including a well-placed Hamilton reference, with special kudos for the staging of "No More Giving It Up." The show has a lot of very effective choreography supplied by Patti James. Whether the dance moves are hip hop, cheers, gospel-inspired swaying for the choral moments, or sensual seductions, the choreography is first rate and a huge asset to the production. Danny White leads a great sounding six-piece band.
Ms. Griffin has also extracted fully committed performances from each of her twelve cast members. Emily Morris conveys both the passion and self-doubt of Lysistrata Jones, the transfer student who comes up with the abstinence idea. Ms. Morris is a talented singer; she showcases some well-honed pop vocal runs and provides a good foundation as the lead for this production. As Robin, Michelle Coben is a spunky spitfire and displays an impressive belt. Zach Erhardt (Mick) convincingly plays the self-centered, dumb jock with a hidden, softer, intellectual side, and is a first-rate vocalist. The role of Hetaira is normally played by a woman (as a woman), but Tyler Johnson-Campion portrays the character at CCM. Part narrator, part Greek chorus, part role of the madam of the local brothel, Hetaira allows Mr. Johnson-Campion the chance to deliciously deliver some high camp fun. If the part is vocally not a great fit (it is intended for a woman after all), he attacks the role with fierce determination (in every meaning of the word "fierce"), over-the-top hilarity, and non-stop energy. Jenny Mollet (Myrrhine) impresses with her big number "Don't Judge A Book," and Alec Cohen skillfully plays the likeable nerd Xander without being stereotypical. Emily Celeste Fink (Lampito), Casey Wenger-Schulman (Cleonice), Karl Amundson (Todd), Matthew Salvatore (Harold), and Jordan Miller (Uardo) each supply fully realized characterizations, solid dance skills, and strong singing voices in the remaining roles.
The all-student design team does an excellent job as well. The scenic design by Matthew D. Hamel includes a mini but complete basketball court and bleachers, as well as signage harkening back to the Greek origins of the story while still being modern. The costumes by Greta Stokes miss the mark in a few areas. There's a lack of consistency in color and style in relation to the basketball uniforms, and the cheerleader outfits which are supposed to tempt the players are tamer than the girls' day-to-day outfits. The lighting by (Andrew P. Diamond), sound (Jake Jobes), and hair/make-up (Nicolette Book) are all professionally rendered.
One of the great things about the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Studio Series offerings, besides the free tickets, is the chance to see lesser known shows like Lysistrata Jones. Even better is the opportunity to see the program's talented student performers who continue to amaze local audiences with their skills. Though the show itself might not be top notch, CCM's production isas usual. Lysistrata Jones played at CCM from April 7-9, 2016.