Turn to this Broadway musical for your basketball fix during lockout
"Lysistrata Jones" is on cheerleaders playing a "zone defense" until their team wins
Boxing is the easiest sport to portray on Broadway, as the awards suggest
The writer and director who put on "Lombardi" are planning a Magic-Bird play
For those of you desperately missing basketball during the NBA lockout, an antidote to your hoop pangs is on the way -- a musical comedy about basketball will open for previews on Broadway on Nov. 12. It's called Lysistrata Jones and is based on the original Lysistrata, which, of course, was written by Aristophanes back in 411 BC.
His famous, enduring plot had to do with the women of Greece -- led by the peace-loving Lysistrata, who gets the ladies to band together and refuse all their sexual favors to their lovers until the macho men finally end the interminable Pelopponesian War.
The new and improved 21st century Lysistrata is hardly so high-minded, involving as it does the dreadful basketball team at one Athens University, which has a losing streak of Pelopponesian War proportions. But, ta-da, led by a cheerleader named Lissie Jones, the girlfriends of the basketball players -- you can see where this is going -- will only play zone defense until the woebegone Athens team finally wins a game. In a nice Greek touch, Syracuse is on the schedule. Do you think the streak might end against ...? Oh, nooo.
Actually, there has long been a dispute about whether sex harms or benefits the athlete. Boxers, in particular, used to be chastely sequestered in rural hideaways before big bouts to remove them from all temptations of the flesh. Nowadays, however, the consensus seems to be that amour before athletic action is a healthy pursuit. But, then, there would go the plot.
In all events, it's tough to produce sports plays, because -- unlike in movies -- it's so hard to act out games in the contained space of a stage. It's especially unpredictable if you try to start throwing around balls. Boxing is the easiest sport to portray, and, in fact, Broadway's most acclaimed sports drama was The Great White Hope, which won both a Tony and a Pulitzer. The best sports musical was about baseball -- Damn Yankees -- but it was heavy on Gwen Verdun's dancing legs and light on players' arms. In fact, given the limits that the stage puts on any real action, it's not surprising that two of the best sports plays -- The Changing Room and Take Me Out -- were set mostly in locker rooms.
Lombardi, a play about the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, ran for 274 performances this past year, but it took place almost entirely in a living room, just talking about football. Lombardi was successful enough -- although it was certainly helped that the Packers won the Super Bowl -- so that the writer and director are now planning a play about the relationship between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. That's a subject almost as shopworn as Lysistrata, but, what the hell, revivals are the mother's milk of the theater.
The last basketball hit on Broadway -- the only one? -- was That Championship Season, which was itself revived this past year. It is about a high school team's dispiriting middle-age reunion. That's a familiar device, too. Playwrights like to use failed athletes as the obvious examples of the promise of youth turned to ashes. Even our greatest, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, did that: Brick in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Biff in Death of a Salesman. (You know they have to be athletes when they're a Brick or a Biff.)
But Lysistrata Jones actually dares show some real basketball action on stage -- and not just talk about it. In fact, the leading lady, Patti Murin, is required to make a layup. You can be sure that, if the musical succeeds, the critics will cry "swish." They'd holler "slam dunk" except that Ms. Murin is only 5-feet-4.