It has finally happened: Lysistrata Jones, the musical that began at the Dallas Theater Center as Give It Up! opened on Broadway on Wednesday, Dec. 14, and New York officially loves our Liz Mikel.
Mikel plays the madam character of Hetaira in Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn's contemporary, fluffy musical take on Aristophanes' anti-war Greek classic Lysistrata. The musical debuted in Dallas in January 2010, the first world premiere musical at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, which had opened just a few months earlier. The show then made it to off-Broadway, via the Transport Group in June 2011, with the new title.
The reviews were mostly positive off-Broadway (I did a roundup of them in June). The show, which deals with a college basketball team and their cheerleader girlfriends who withhold sex until they start winning games, happened in a site-specific venue: a real gymnasium at Judson Memorial Church.
The show has largely kept the main cast members from Dallas, with the major exception being that Josh Segarra is the lead basketball hunk Mick, boyfriend of Lyssie Jones (Patti Murin, who originated the role in Dallas). In Big D, Mick was played by Andrew Rannells, now the Tony-nominated star of The Book of Mormon.
And of course, there's the great Liz Mikel.
She was the best thing about it in Dallas (where I was among a handful of critics who were not fans of the show), and she's getting strong notices on the Great White Way.
Much of the criticism seems to be that the transfer from the off-Broadway gym to the large, Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway doesn't quite work, although Ben Brantley of The New York Times thinks it hasn't lost anything in the move.
He writes in The New York Times:
Lysistrata Jones has been dressed up (and scaled up) real pretty for Broadway, bringing a heightened touch of summer sun and silliness to what has been an exceptionally gray season for musicals."
Some of the reviews take issue with the notion that the musical distorts the intent of the original play, in which the women were withholding sex until the boys stop fighting and end the war. Here, they're not putting out unless the boys fight to win.
Below is a breakdown of the major reivews that have been posted so far. We'll keep adding links as we get them.
Click on the publication title to see the full review. They're ordered here into positive, mixed and negative (ouch, Newsday) categories. Hey, it's the business of show, people, and critics have opinions. It's only fair to mention their range. Even when the show is panned, Mikel seems to be a standout to everyone.
We coulda told you that.
The New York Times, Ben Brantley
What he said about Liz: "This standoff of the sexes is overseen by an earthy goddess narrator, Hetaira (the commanding Liz Mikel), who doubles as the madam of the local whorehouse and who dispenses ancient wisdom in the style of the divine Aretha (as in Franklin)."
Backstage, David Sheward
What he said about Liz: "Liz Mikel is a gigantic presence as the goddess narrator Hetaira"
Philadelphia Inquirer, Howard Shapiro
What he said about Liz: "It's a stitch, and a playfully lurid one, electrified by director Dan Knechtges' breathless choreography and a bunch of talented musical actors. One is an earth-motherish madam, griot, adviser and goddess, all wrapped into the person of Liz Mikel, a hot mama who commands a stage just by showing up."
TheaterMania, Andy Propst
What he said about Liz: "Liz Mikel, whose powerhouse presence and vocals seem designed for Broadway"
Variety, Steven Kuskin
What he said about Liz: "Liz Mikel is the big-voiced oversized Greek goddess who is the only adult in the house."
New York Post, Elisabeth Vincentelli
What she said about Liz: "It's hard to single out anybody onstage, though the imperial Liz Mikel deserves a shout-out for her dual turn as narrator Hetaira and the madam of the local brothel, the Eros Motor Lodge."
Huffington Post, Danny Groner
What he said about Liz: [not about Liz, but about her character] "Hetaira, as 'the odd one out,' but also the greatest source of wisdom — and other times humor — in this irreverent show that updates Aristophanes' Lysistrata for modern times" ... "For these characters — and the show in general — there's usually more than meets the eye."
TheDailyBeast.com, Marlow Stern
What he said about Liz: "And lest we forget Heterai (Liz Mikel), the show's goddess-narrator who sporadically injects some Motown flavor into the proceedings. With so much zest and sweat emanating from the stage, the show's two hour and 20 minutes running time go by in a flash."
The Village Voice, Michael Feingold
What he said about Liz: "But Liz Mikel and Jason Tam each nab a few laughs, as, respectively, a sex worker teaching the girls how to de-eroticize, and an epically liberal-geek-turned-sports-hero."
The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney
What he said about Liz: "A whole lot of fabulousness in her ample flesh and flowing robes, Liz Mikel goes from playing the hardworking mama of Smash Williams on Friday Night Lights to a hot mama of a less earthbound breed in her Broadway debut."
The Financial Times, Brendan Lemon
What he said about Liz: "Beane's book is the standout creative element, allowing the cast, especially a big-mama Greek chorus figure called Hetaira, given good growl by Liz Mikel, to deliver laughs you don't hate yourself for the next morning."
New York Daily News, Joe Dziemianowicz
What he said about Liz: "Even Hetaira, a plus-sized eminence portrayed by the irresistible Liz Mikel, is now a garden-variety character device."
New York Magazine, Scott Brown
What he said about Liz: "As the celestial narratrix Hetaira (Liz Mikel) explains tunefully at the beginning of the show, the chief attraction of 'something that's old and so arcane'for the adapters lay in the fact that 'it's public domain.' In other words, Xana-don't think too hard about what you're about to see. Less isn't necessarily more in Lysistrata Jones. It's simply all there is. ... Squeaky, creamy Murin isn't designed for laying diva-ish waste to a big room (that's what Mikel's here for), but she's easy to root for in the lead..."
The Faster Times, Jonathan Mandell
What he said about Liz: "The standouts remain ... Liz Mikel as the one-woman Greek chorus and Madam of a local brothel—a big buxom diva who can belt with the best."
The Associated Press (via Huffington Post), Mark Kennedy
What he said about Liz: "Liz Mikel, with her fantastic voice and strong stage presence, keeps the show alive. Yet this buxom, funny woman is asked at one point to strip down to a bodysuit in a moment that seems exploitative."
The Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout
What he said about Liz: "Mitigating circumstances, in ascending order: (1) The excellent seven-piece pit band; (2) Allen Moyer's glitzy gymnasium set; (3) Liz Mikel, who has a voice like a funky klaxon horn; (4) Lindsay Nicole Chambers, a natural comedienne with a wonderful smile of which we surely haven't seen the last. The rest of the cast is…well, let's just say peppy."
Bloomberg, Jeremy Gerard
What he said about Liz: [no specific mention]
Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones
What he said about Liz: "And Liz Mikel, stuck with pretty much the same African-American, sassy-maternal-madam character you can also see in Rock of Ages and Chicago, does her best with what the gods have provided."
Entertainment Weekly, Thom Geier
What he said about Liz: "...standout performance ... in the thankless role of the Madam."
TalkinBroadway.com, Matthew Murray
What he said about Liz: "Mikel is a buxom force of nature hampered only by her part's negligibility, and Murin almost locates layers in Lysistrata's behavior. Everyone sings powerfully and executes Knechtges's athletic dance moves with surging brio."
Time Out New York, Adam Feldman
What he said about Liz: "But the plot remains silly, the music humdrum and the characters trite; the Latino figures have little but accents to define them, and not even the imposing Liz Mikel can rescue her weary-wise prostitute character from the sassy molasses of big-black-lady stereotype."
Newsday, Linda Winer
What she said about Liz: "Best (by which I mean worst) of all, the girls go 'talk to a whore' to learn how to tease their apathetic men. The head hooker ... (Liz Mikel) ... also doubles as the high-decibel Greek chorus."
It's of course way too early to predict Tony nominations, as we still have a spring season of new musicals to open. The new shows to open in the spring include Once, Ghost the Musical, Newsies, Nice Work If You Can Get It and Rebecca. And then there's a reworked version of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, which features another Dallas Theater Center actor, Cedric Neal.
Bonnie and Clyde, which is the only new musical of this season that's still open (unless you count the star-driven showcase shows featuring Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin; and Hugh Jackman), wouldn't be any competition, considering its largely negative reviews.
We'll be crossing our fingers for a Liz Mikel Tony nom in the featured actress category. Not to mention all the other awards.
You can also check out the video buzz for the show on the musical's YouTube page. Here's one of Hunter Parrish, of the TV show Weeds and the current Broadway revival of Godspell, giving a shout-out to Liz Mikel:
And a few other reviews to check out: