Dallas, the City, Comes Back Too!

Earlier this week, to celebrate the return of Dallas, we had Patrick Duffy, who plays Bobby Ewing, muse on the return of the show. Well, there’s also a city named Dallas that is experiencing a Comeback. So we asked Chris LaBove, co-artistic director of Second Thought Theatre, to give us a tour of the new and re-up and coming city.

In the 1980s, Dallas, awash in oil money, had little in the way of culture. Thirty odd years later, some of that money has finally made its way into the arts. Now Dallas is at a cultural tipping point. Creative energy breeds creative energy, and in the last few months alone, Dallas Symphony Orchestra maestro Jaap van Zweden was named conductor of the year by Musical America; the Dallas Museum of Art hosted the Gaultier exhibit—one of only two cities in the U.S. to do so; and the musical Lysistrata Jones, which premiered at the Dallas Theater Center, jumped to Broadway.

Much of this ferment is found in a four-block stretch that comprises the Dallas Arts District. At one end are the Dallas Museum of Art, The Crow Collection of Asian Art, and the Nasher Sculpture Center. At the other end is the AT&T Performing Arts Center, which is home to The Dallas Opera, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Dallas Theater Center, whose director, Kevin Moriarty, launched the citywide Foote Festival, a tribute to Texan playwright Horton Foote. Take that, arty Austin!

But from the ground bubbles underground spots, too, like the Texas Theatre, an independent film house, and indie rock spot The Curtain Club. Be sure to pay a visit to the brew masters at the Meddlesome Moth where, on any given night, you’ll find the sophisticated sons of the oil boom.

‘Lysistrata Jones’ Makes Moves on Broadway

As the house lights came up at the end of the first act of Lysistrata Jones, the new musical comedy that opened last night at the Water Kerr Theater, I turned to my theater date and exclaimed, "I love this!" before realizing that I hadn’t bothered writing down anything in my notebook during that first hour-and-a-half. Instead, I was completely enthralled and entertained by what I had just seen on stage above me: a silly, ridiculously enjoyable musical featuing an energetic ensemble of young actors playfully skewering the sexual politics running rampant on a college campus.

For those who avoided the classics in undergrad, Lysistrata Jones is a modern retelling of the bawdy comedy by Aristophanes in which the women of Athens withhold sex from their husbands and lovers in an attempt to end the Peloponnesian War. Jumping forward in time by 2,400 years, Lysistrata is now a recent transfer student at Athens University, a "less than competitive" school full the usual stereotypical collegiate characters: dumb jocks, ditsy coeds, a feminist slam poetry enthusiast, and at least one bespectacled political activist with a snarky blog called "The Left Nut." Frustrated with the basketball team’s lack of athletic ambition (they haven’t won a game in 30 years), Lyssie J. comes up with a scheme to put a spark under the guys’ sneakers and "give up giving it up."

What results is a hilarious battle of the sexes, layered with light feminist (and, surprisingly, racial) commentary. While there are references to the classic tale, the musical’s strongest elements are the current pop culture humor (Siri makes a cameo, the protagonist gets her plan from SparkNotes, and two characters bond over the homoeroticism in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin). And since it’s a play centered around basketball, the choreography is particularly athletic, infusing a hip-hop aesthetic in a way that doesn’t feel forced or cheesy. Plenty Broadway musicals have gone for a Top 40 sound in recent years, but this usually results in square attempts at a young, hip sound–like acoustic guitars in church. The creative team behind Lysistrata Jones, however, deliver a score that actually sounds like pop music (and not of the bland Glee variety).

It’s hardly a perfect show, of course. The second act isn’t as fast-paced as the first, and a few of the songs, particularly a ballad sung by Lyssie’s boyfriend (the captain of the basketball team, played by Josh Segarra), feel like filler. There is also a one-woman Greek chorus (Hetaira, played by the fantastic Liz Merkel) that guides us through the show, but her inclusion ultimately seems like an unnecessary nod to the source material. Overall, however, the cast is terrific, especially Patti Murin in the title role–a surprising ball of kinetic energy with a powerhouse voice hiding within her petite frame.

Lysistrata Jones is a joyful musical full of warmth and heart, a satire that doesn’t overly attack the characters and concepts it criticises. It’s a refreshing tale that avoids slut-shaming, and it doesn’t preach the virtues of chastity as much as it praises the power of female sexuality (while staying delightfully PG-13). The production is a gamble; it’s got a funny title, a cast without a bold-faced name, and a story that wasn’t lifted from a recent movie (an issue that turns up in a self-referential joke in the first act). It does, however, feature bold thematic elements ready to jump out from the gimmicks of show’s aesthetic, a collection of catchy tunes that support a solid book, and an impressive cast of dynamic young talents earnestly giving it up with enthusiastic slam dunk.