Review: Cheerleaders call the shots in 'Lysistrata Jones'

Review: Cheerleaders call the shots in 'Lysistrata Jones'
A tale from ancient Greece is relocated to a present-day university in the musical "Lysistrata Jones." The Chance Theater production features J.D. Driskill and Devon Hadsell. (Thamer Bajjali / True Image Studio)

The buzz is that "Lysistrata Jones" will be made into a film.

Even though "Jones" ran a scant 30-odd performances when it opened on Broadway in late 2011, one can envision this bouncily retro musical as a made-for-television movie on the Disney Channel.

However, as a sustained piece of theater it's strikingly insubstantial, a thematically thin enterprise that makes "High School Musical" seem weighty by comparison.

Featuring a book and lyrics by Tony-nominated Douglas Carter Beane and music by Lewis Flinn, "Lysistrata" is, of course, based on the Aristophanes comedy about feisty Greek women who went on a sex strike to protest the decades-long Peloponnesian War.


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Here, the action is set at present-day Athens University, where peppy Lysistrata Jones (Devon Hadsell) persuades her fellow cheerleaders to withhold sex from their basketball jock boyfriends until the guys break the school's 30-plus-year losing streak.

This West Coast premiere, the inaugural production in the Chance Theater's new theater space, is a hugely ambitious endeavor for the Chance, which is not operating under a Equity contract. Director Kari Hayter has marshaled her fresh-faced forces into a well-regimented unit, as has musical director Rod Bagheri, who also helms the onstage band.

The design elements are top-notch (although the vertiginous stairs on Christopher Scott Murillo's set seem designed to catapult the actors into space). Choreographer Kelly Todd contributes playfully sensual dances that are a highlight.

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With the exception of sultry Camryn Zelinger, who plays a worldly courtesan, the performers are all convincingly collegiate. Not so Beane's book, which features creakily archaic references that drop with a thud. (Kitty Dukakis? Menudo? Really?)

The cast includes J.D. Driskill, Robert Wallace, Ashley Arlene Nelson, Michael Dashefsky, Darian Archie, Klarissa Mesee, Danielle Rosario, Chelsea Baldree, Ricky Wagner and Jackson Tobiska. Infectiously ebullient, all are young, talented and consistently fun to watch — but one wishes their efforts had gone toward a more worthy vehicle.

"Lysistrata Jones." Chance Theater at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 9. $35-$45. (714) 777-3033. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.