A sexy new musical comedy version of the Greek classic, Lysistrata, with book by Larry Gelbart, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by David Zippel, will have a private reading by Manhattan Theatre Club March 11, a spokesman for the not-for-profit confirmed.
The musical, subtitled Sex and the City-State, was originally to debut May 10 as a vehicle for Cherry Jones at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, but Gelbart's script was rejected for various reasons, depending on who is sourced. Andrei Serban will now direct a version of the Aristophanes play — about Greek women who withhold sex to get their men to stop warring — at ART. Artistic director Robert Brustein, who is retiring at the end of the season, is writing the adaptation of the 411 B.C. play himself.
The ART staging was originally announced as having songs by William Bolcom and Arnold Weinstein. When they dropped out, Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast) and David Zippel (City of Angels) came aboard and cooked up what started to feel like a commercial crowd-pleaser, according to reports.
Gelbart told The New York Observer he was told Feb. 5 that actress Cherry Jones, production designer Michael Yeargan and director Andrei Serban were not happy with his, Menken and Zippel's version and were uncomfortable being a part of it. Brustein told The Boston Globe the Gelbart version is "ferociously obscene — much more than Aristophanes." He also told the Beantown paper the new play doesn't adhere very closely to the classic, and "it's almost a play of its own. It comes out of a tradition of American burlesque."
Of the Gelbart version, Brustein told The Globe: "It was Disneyfied. And the whole thing was moving more in the direction of a Broadway play than any of us wanted." Gelbart is known for adapting "M*A*S*H" for television, and penning the comic librettos to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (inspired by Plautus, who also loved a good phallus joke) and City of Angels with Cy Coleman and Zippel. He has said publicly that he received nothing but praise from Brustein since last fall, until he received a "Dear Larry" letter Feb. 5.
Brustein and ART's Lysistrata — with Hair composer Galt McDermot and lyricist Matty Selman now penning songs — is a co-production with Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia. It plays Philly June 15-30. The Cambridge dates are May 10-June 9.
MTC often explores new material in readings, and there are currently no plans for the nonprofit to stage Lysistrata. MTC is giving a listen to Kander and Ebb's Over & Over in a reading in April.
Zippel, Gelbart and Cy Coleman are working on a sexy, bawdy musical comedy, Napoleon & Josephine, based on the historical figures.
— By Kenneth Jones