"I am older than time and there is only ever one story," says the character Hetaira, a spirit who shadows the action in the new Broadway musical Lysistrata Jones. Hetaira, played by Liz Mikel, is the odd one out, but also the greatest source of wisdom -- and other times humor -- in this irreverent show that updates Aristophanes' Lysistrata for modern times. With Greek tradition in place only for its format and framework, the show runs wild. Douglas Carter Beane's book is chock full of contemporary cultural references to Siri, Newt Gingrich, and sexting. Along the same lines, director Dan Knechtges plays up gags for the audience's delight.
The play centers on Lysistrata Jones (Patti Murin), a student at Athens College who, after learning the history and heritage of her namesake, decides to organize the women of her school to impose a sex boycott on their basketball-playing boyfriends until the team wins a game. After the guys rebel, this standoff escalates to the point where neither side can remember why they ever entered into this no-holds-barred war, and "Lizzie J" winds up the school pariah. The play never takes itself too seriously, and draws upon both Greek and Broadway traditions.
Murin leads a wonderful cast of performers. The play's best songs come when the full company is on stage -- "You Go Your Way" toward the end of the first act will leave you impressed with how well the show weaves in its basketball themes with imagery and dance moves that you might actually believe that these starlets are athletes, too. (To get these dance numbers just right, the cast went through a basketball boot camp led by NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin.) It's hard not too root for the team to work out all of their assorted drama and troubles, on and off the court. Even the band seems to be having a great time, stationed above in the rafters of the stage made to resemble a college gymnasium.
While it's a lighthearted and funny story, the play does carry some complicated issues related to identity and sexuality. For these characters -- and the show in general -- there's usually more than meets the eye.