"Full-figured girls," as Jane Russell quaintly called her crowd, came back in favor Dec. 14 when Liz Mikel commandingly took charge of the Walter Kerr stage, strutting her considerable stuff through a thicket of horny collegiates, narrating, refereeing, doing motel madam, whatever Lysistrata Jones needed.
True to the conceit that this is a musical fun-poke at Greek mythology, she is draped in a scarlet toga, save for a breastplate of industrial steel that does what it can to conceal a rather animated left breast as she sashays about with genuine authority. The rest of the cast, God love 'em, seem to be sitting at the children's table playing something tame like Old Maid. In a sense, they are — this female-invented game of withholding sex until their men do what they tell them. It's quite old, this game. When Aristophanes originally told it in 411 B.C., the men had to stop making war. As Douglas Carter Beane re-tells it in 2011 A.D., the men are to stop their losing streak and win basketball games for dear old Athens U. Instead, these dudes take their woes to some understanding, hopefully helpful, souls at the Eros Motel.
Beane's partner, Lewis Flinn, served up a lively score of 13 songs to keep the youngsters in a pretty perpetual spin. Most of the numbers keep the plot racing.
The old Liberty Theatre on West 42nd, now reupholstered as a handsome nightspot, was the site of the opening-night Bacchanal, but just try to find it. It has a very inconspicuous entrance lost in the neon glare between Madame Tussauds and the AMC Empire.
Publicists with orange-and-white pompoms had to hit the streets to wave you in.
Director-choreographer Dan Knechtges — a name made for a marquee if ever there was one — was grinning ear to ear, pleased with the evening's impact.
"How can you not have a good time when the show is so joyous and the people are so much fun?" he defiantly asked. "You can't help but smile and have a good time." Clearly, he was enjoying his Broadway-directing debut, but this also happens to be his fifth show as a choreographer — following Spelling Bee, 110 in the Shade, Xanadu and Sondheim on Sondheim — and he pours it on pretty strong for his young and very game cast. "Those dancers work so hard. It's so funny because, at the beginning, they kept saying, 'We're going to be close to naked on stage. You can't be bringing in baked goods." I love to bake — and I used to bring in cookies. And now they keep saying, "‘No, bring 'em in. We're losing weight.'"
His secret weapon — the mighty Mikel — was discovered at the first stop on the way to Broadway. "We found her in Dallas," Knechtges recalled. "She was part of the theatre company there, and the artistic director said, 'You can have whoever you want, but I do have someone who would be right for this part. Would you see her?' And we said yes, and she came in, and we said, 'We have to have her.' She's a star."
Accordingly, the star made a star's entrance at the party — fashionably late — fancily outfitted in a free-flowing gown with shawl that covered all points of interest.
Beaming blissfully about her Broadway debut, she reiterated, "I started with the very first production that was done of it at the Dallas Theatre Center, and I've been riding the wave ever since." She didn't have to add, but did: "I'm grateful to be here."
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