Red Branch Theatre Company continues to amaze with its 2017 season premiere of the perky and impertinent Lysistrata Jones. Thanks to savvy staging and choreography, this short-lived 2011 Broadway musical is tuned up to give any modern Greek scholar more than an earful.
The book by Douglas Carter Beane and songs by Lewis Flinn drag Aristophanes into the present day in order to poke a little fun at millennial passivity. Rather than goading their men to lay down their weapons and end war, the all-American college gals at Athens University would like their boyfriends on the college basketball team to put an end to their long losing streak and show a little more “killer instinct” on the court.
The tactic remains the same: withhold sexual favors. (Note: This is not one of the theater’s family-friendly productions. The theme alone makes the show most appropriate for college-aged audiences and beyond.)
Getting the boys to jump through their hoops is not so easy, of course. And spunky boycott leader Lysistrata Jones will face resistance and scorn from all sides before the team gets with her program.
For this area premiere, Director Stephanie Lynn Williams has filled her proscenium stage with star power enough to light up the little Drama Learning Center and brighten the road home from its Columbia, Maryland neighborhood.
We have enjoyed other performances of petite Hailey Ibberson at this venue. But she truly blossoms before our eyes here in the spunky title role. She gives us all the reason we need to follow along on her journey from cheerleader to seductress to pint-sized paradigm of human rights.
Ibberson’s big vocal solo “Where Am I Now?” may be the first time she has engaged fully and emotionally with a song, and she mesmerized the crowd with her heart and commitment. In the true spirit of Aristophanes, everything about this young lady is disarming.
Opening night ticket holders also could not take their eyes off Patrick J. Campbell as Mick, the easy-going team captain. His smooth vocal delivery of the signature song “Lay Low” and his graceful charm throughout made us care about his character’s destiny as well.
All the boys on the team and the girls at their side were well chosen for singing and dancing moves. Happily, this production is back in the hands of Choreographer Brandon Glass. When appropriate, he fills the stage with plenty of back-flipping pep and drive. But he is particularly good with the male chorus, crafting for them some precision footwork and dandy hand jiving that seem a natural outgrowth of their basketball training.
The shadow of tall and regal Taylor Washington informs much of this show, just as her character, Hetaira, guides and counsels the players. She brings a practiced self-confidence to the line readings that stands in stark contrast to her bold and riveting vocal delivery of the centerpiece numbers, “Right Now,” “The Writing on the Wall” and especially “Give It Up.”
Taylor Witt is another standout as the poetry-spouting non-jock, Xander. Witt has a winning way and a voice and smile to match.
Others providing excellent support on the male side are Jason Quackenbush, Diego Esmolo, Elad Ness, Conner Gilbert and Andrew Overton.
Providing the pushback from the female side are Angeleaza Anderson, Victoria Meyers, Alex Levenson, Flora Aubin and Tiara Whaley.
Dustin Merrell and Tiffany Underwood Holmes are happily back leading the small pit band, this time being aided by Rachel Sandler.
The substantial gymnasium-like backdrop with movable set pieces contributed by Scenic Designer Bill Brown helps keep the action centered and fluid. Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin and the costumes of Stefany Thomas are also fully on their game here.
A lot of traveling takes place on the court in this show. In this case that’s never a penalty. Congratulations to Director Stephanie Lynn Williams and Choreographer Brandon Glass for keeping everything up on its toes and turning a little premiere into a big reason for theater lovers to get out of the house.
Still to come this season is the musical The Bridges of Madison County and a new stage version of DreamWorks’ Madagascar. It’s not too late to buy subscriptions and support this fearless and engaging local playhouse.
Running Time: About two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Lysistrata Jones plays through August 26, 2017 at Red Branch Theatre Company performing at the Drama Learning Center – 9130-I Red Branch Road, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 997-9352, or purchase them online.