By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
411 BCE. That’s when Aristophones’ comedy Lysistrata was first performed in Athens, Greece. That’s a hell of a long time ago but classics are timeless and that’s why they’re performed still today. Though they don’t need to be updated and modernized, it’s always fun to see what happens when they are and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but it’s interesting to see what each era does with them. Red Branch Theatre Company has taken a chance on a modernized classic with their latest production of Lysistrata Jones with Music & Lyrics by Lewis Flinn and Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Directed by Stephanie Lynn Williams with Music Direction by Dustin Merrell and Choreography by Brandon Glass, and it’s worked out nicely for them.
Lysistrata Jones has taken the story of Lysistrata and taken it out of Ancient Greece to modern day Athens University where the basketball team isn’t really trying that hard when the title character enters the scene and simply wants them to try harder; to want something, and until they do, the girls decide, with the coaxing of Lystrata… no funny business in the bedroom! This leads to an age-old battle of the sexes that involves no funny business in the bedroom and seeking advice from the Madame of the local brothel with some self-realizations along the way.
Scenic Design by Bill Brown is simple, unit gymnasium set which is wise considering the ample but intimate space at Red Branch. His use of bright colors and movable stairs to help create individual settings is both clever and practical making for smooth, easy transitions between scenes, keeping the flow of the piece moving nicely.
Stefany Thomas’ Costume Design is authentic and gives each character his or her own style and helps bring out each character’s personality and charm.
Brandon Glass’ Choreography is top-notch in this high energy, up-tempo piece. The cast looks like their having a great time and Glass’ choreography is fun to watch. The ensemble numbers are tight and well-rehearsed and he seems to know his actors and matches his choreography to enhance the abilities of this cast. Glass is to be commended for his current and varied choreography in this production.
Music Direction by Dustin Merrell is superb and he brings this exciting and energetic score off the page and onto the stage. With songs that stick to the brain like “No More Givin’ It Up,” “You Go Your Way,” and “The Writing on the Wall,” Merrell is working with a contemporary style with (at times) a heavy hip-hop influence but he and his cast pull it off nicely. The band, though a bit muted because of the space, is tight and well-rehearsed and gives a praiseworthy performance.
Director Stephanie Lynn Williams takes the helm of this production and has given us a delightful evening of theatre. She has a good comprehension of the material and though it’s been twisted and re-imagined, the story still holds tight. It’s a show full of fluff, but Williams seems to have taken it seriously enough not to just throw it away. She’s taken the time to bring the gender-based issues and message of self-realization out of the fluff. She keeps the action moving and the transitions smooth which help keep the pacing consistent. Casting is excellent and, overall, Williams has a splendid final product.
The entire ensemble of this piece is spot on. They are dedicated and are working hard to give 100% but are all having a blast up on the stage. The “boys” Cinesias (Andrew Overton), Tyllis (Jason Quackebush), ‘Uardo (Diego Esmolo), and Harold (Elad Ness) all have great chemistry and embody their very different characters. A standout is Overton as the “play-a” Cinesias who has his character down pat and is hilarious as the young man who can’t seem to figure out who or what he is.
Taylor Witt takes on the role of Xander, the social-conscious semi-activist who isn’t a member of the team but crosses paths with our heroine and teaches her not to give up and to keep moving forward. He gives an authentic performance and his featured number “Hold On” is a catchy number that he performs well.
Every team needs a leader and this one is led by Mick, played by Patrick J Campbell, who gives a good but somewhat subdued and mechanical performance. Vocally, Campbell is a standout with a gentle but strong styling as in his featured number “When She Smiles.”
The “girls,” as it were, is made of an entertaining and able group consisting of Cleonice (Tiara Whaley), Myrrhine (Victoria Meyers), and Lamptio (Angeleaza Anderson) are everything you want in a cheerleading clique but maybe a little nicer. Each of these characters are different from the next and these ladies have taken these roles and make them their own. Meyers is a believable “good girl” but lets it all out in “Don’t Judge a Book,” her featured duet with Andrew Overton. Whaley takes a commendable turn as the Latina and, though it’s obvious that Spanish is not her native language (at least that’s what it sounded like), she is dedicated to her character and has great chemistry with her fellow actors. Angeleaza Anderson is funny and authentic as the “ditzy” one of the crew. Her vocalization for the character is on point and she gives a confident performance with a good stage presence.
Hailey Ibberson as the title character Lysistrata Jones, the new girl who swoops in to change everything, is absolutely charming. She has a strong presence and gives a committed, confident, and energetic performance and seems to have a good grasp of this character and her tribulations. Ibberson gives a wonderful vocal performance and shines in her featured numbers such as “Change the World” and the poignant “Where Am I Now.”
Taylor Washington as Hetaira and Alex Levenson as Robin are definite highlights of this production. Washington takes on double duty with the character of Hetaira playing both a narrator of sorts as well as the Madame of a brothel. She not only embodies these characters wholly, her vocal stylings on her featured numbers such as “I Don’t Think So” and “Writing on the Wall” are stellar. She takes these songs and makes them her own with her booming voice and she is simply a joy to hear and watch. At the same time, Alex Levenson portrays her character, the level-headed, astute student, with great authenticity and seemingly effortlessly. There are many points in the show I completely forgot she is reading from a script because of her natural and smooth performance. Kudos to both of these actors for a job well done.
Final thought… Though light and airy, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed Lysistrata Jones. It is an upbeat and current piece with a great score, catchy songs, a good script, and high-energy choreography that fits nicely in this summer time slot. The ensemble is dedicated and able and the chemistry is within the entire cast is clear. The classic tale of Lysistrata is broken down but not necessarily dumbed down and this production at Red Branch Theatre Company keeps the audience entertained and engaged.
This is what I thought of Red Branch Theatre Company’s production of Lysistrata Jones… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Lysistrata Jones will play through August 26 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.
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