The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes obviously never wrote about American basketball players and cheerleaders, but surely he would have recognized the satirical spirit permeating "Lysistrata Jones." That's because this musical currently being staged by Red Branch Theatre Company is a contemporary riff on his comedy "Lysistrata."
Aristophanes' play concerns a group of women who are so tired of the male habit of waging war that they decide to be celibate until the men wage peace instead. It's a frustrating experience for the ancient Greek guys, to say the least, but their frustration has been a funny experience for theatergoers since 411 B.C.
The stakes in "Lysistrata Jones" admittedly are lower. A university basketball team's cheerleaders are so tired of watching the team lose that they decide to be celibate until these jocks start winning. Although world peace might not be at stake here, the situation qualifies, OMG, as a collegiate crisis.
The war between the sexes has an eternal quality, of course, and so one likes to think that Aristophanes would smile with approval as the captain of the cheerleaders at a fictitious American university known as Athens University, Lysistrata Jones, convinces her gal pals to pursue an extreme strategy to motivate a lazy basketball team.
This strategy prompts major changes on and off the court. Lysistrata, for instance, has a boyfriend, Mick, who is captain of the basketball team. Their Barbie-and-Ken-evocative relationship seems grounded in societal expectations rather than in any deep affection. Theirs is hardly the only relationship that will undergo changes as the show goes on.
Although its premise derived from an ancient Greek comedy is an unusual tactic, "Lysistrata Jones" otherwise fits very comfortably within the modern era of teen comedies. That's a good thing, actually, because the music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn and book by Douglas Carter Beane are thematically clever and musically upbeat. In other words, it's a fun show that deserved better than the brief run it had on Broadway during the 2011- 2012 season.
The Red Branch production directed by Stephanie Lynn Williams features an endearing cast whose performances make potentially stock characters spring to life. As Lysistrata Jones, Hailey Ibberson is a petite dynamo destined to get her way; and as Mick, Patrick J. Campbell has the suave moves expected from a popular guy.
There are worthwhile musical solo opportunities for both performers, but some of the most energetic numbers involve Lysistrata and her fellow cheerleaders, such as "Change the World" and "No More Givin' It Up," and Mick and his fellow basketball players, such as "Lay Low."
Similarly, a narrating character named Hetaira (Taylor Washington) gets strong solo opportunities that owe a lot to solid ensemble backup. Numbers such as "Party Time- Right Now" and "The Writing on the Wall" have enough intensity to make you take the plot's silliness more seriously.
Throughout a show that has its share of musical numbers, choreographer Brandon Glass helps ensure that the frequent transitions from dialogue to song-and-dance are smooth. It's a pleasure just to watch the coordinated dance moves.
Although music director Dustin Merrell leads an equally committed band, there is such an insistently percussive drive that sometimes the music rides on top of the dialogue and the singing. Especially in the first half of the show, the actors need to project a bit more and the band a bit less.
The costumes by Stefany Thomas, scenic design by Bill Brown and other technical credits effectively put us in a place that is an American gym with occasional references to an ancient Greek hangout.
It's mildly distracting, though, that the compact and rather, er, spartan staging has the basketball hoop situated directly above the entrance doors to the gym. Winning architectural design it's not.
"Lysistrata Jones" runs through Aug. 26 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road in Columbia. Remaining performances are Aug. 25 and 26 at 8 p.m.; Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m.; and Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance; $24 for students, seniors and active duty military; $35 for all at the door. Call 410-997-9352 or go to www.redbranchtheatrecompany.com