Broadway is getting street cred — and it's coming by way of the Greeks. Broadway funnyman Douglas Carter Beane (the three-time Tony-nominated scribe of Sister Act, Xanadu and The Little Dog Laughed) and his longtime partner, composer and lyricist Lewis Flinn, are getting ready to debut their latest project: Lysistrata Jones, a modern retelling of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, now in previews on Broadway at the Walter Kerr. Opening night is Dec. 14.
The new musical, directed and choreographed by Beane's friend and collaborator Dan Knechtges (Xanadu), sets the anti-war classic in modern times — where basketball is now the focus and a hip, bubble-gum-pop score provides the accompaniment.
Lysistrata, now called Lyssie J, is a transfer student and cheerleader at Athens University who rallies the girls in her squad to refrain from "mixing" with the boys until the university's basketball team breaks their 30-year losing streak.
Over a light lunch with the three collaborators, Beane mentioned that the concept for the musical started out as a joke.
|photo by Carol Rosegg|
"It was during the height of all the 'American Pie' films," he said. "I was working on another project at the time, and someone said, 'What's next?' I said, not being serious, 'I'm doing a musical of Lysistrata.'" He added with a laugh: "Sarcasm is wonderful for success."
But success was definitely in the cards for Beane and his creative team. Lysistrata Jones — originally titled Give it Up! — debuted to critical acclaim at the Dallas Theater Center in 2010. The show moved Off-Broadway this past summer courtesy of the Transport Group, playing to sold-out crowds in an actual gymnasium in Greenwich Village.
Knechtges has accented the show's muscular movement and staging with a little pop-and-lock — but all of it was influenced by the actual game of basketball, which the director-choreographer researched by playing hoops with his family and watching videos on YouTube.
"I think basketball and dancing go hand in hand," Knechtges said. "When we were doing our workshop on the show, it was shocking how easily you could take traditional dance forms and make them into basketball formations."
The cast of 12 relative unknowns — led by the young Patti Murin as Lyssie J — gained some skills at a special basketball camp before beginning rehearsals for the Broadway production. Helmed by famed former NBA player Chris Mullin, the camp was designed to prepare the cast for the grueling workout they'll be doing onstage eight shows a week.
|photo by Krissie Fullerton|
"What they do in camp will be research for me and the show," Knechtges said earlier this fall, "because I'll probably pull ideas from camp and re-choreograph the show."
The production marks the first major Broadway musical experience for the team of Beane and Flinn. The two artists — who began collaborating before dating, ten years ago — call this production a sort of "family affair."
"We took our kids Cooper and Gabi down to Texas with us when we were working on the show out of town," said Flinn.
Beane said with a laugh, "Hammering out this show was sort of like [a scene from the film] 'The Band Wagon.' We couldn't figure out this one character.... I would walk into the room and say, 'I got it — he's a drifter!'"
"And I would say, 'No!'" said Flinn.
But, Flinn added in a rather sincere if dry tone, "it's an endless joy working together. We, surprisingly, don't talk that much about it when we're not working. When we are working there is obviously a short hand; we know each other very well. We trust each other, our abilities. We can be direct when we need to be. It's not tricky."
Knechtges, acting as a sort of onlooker or perhaps a referee, responded with, "A lot of Doug and Lewis' writing is very specific. It allows a generosity of personality, which is essential in musical comedy, and that is one thing where we feel, as a team, we succeed."