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Tue October 25, 2011

The (Basketball) Show Must Go On

Originally published on Wed October 26, 2011 7:44 am

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 B.C.

His famous 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 Peloponnesian War.

The new and improved 21st century Lysistrata is not quite so high-minded, involving as it does the dreadful basketball team at Athens University, which has a losing streak of Peloponnesian War proportions. But, ta-da, led by a cheerleader named Lyssie Jones, the girlfriends of the basketball players –– you can see where this is going — will only play zone defense and deny all amore until the 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, it's tough to produce sports plays, because it's so hard to act out games in the contained space of a stage. It's especially unpredictable if you start throwing around balls. Boxing is the easiest to portray, and, in fact, Broadway's most acclaimed sports drama was The Great White Hope. The best sports musical was about baseball — Damn Yankees — but it was heavy on Gwen Verdon's dancing and devoid of any hitting and pitching. Given the limits the stage puts on sports 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 Packer coach, Vince Lombardi, that ran for 274 performances this past year, took place mostly in a living room, just talking about football, but it was successful enough — helped by the Packers' winning the Super Bowl — that the writer and director are now planning a play about the relationship between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

The last basketball hit on Broadway was That Championship Season, which was about a high school team's dispiriting middle-age reunion. Playwrights like to use failed athletes as obvious examples of the promise of youth turned to ashes. Both our greatest, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, even did that — Brick in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Biff in Death of A Salesman.

But Lysistrata Jones actually dares play some real basketball onstage and not just talk about it. In fact, the leading lady, Patti Murin, has to make a layup. You can be sure if the musical succeeds the critics will cry "swish." They'd holler "slam-dunk," except that Murin is only 5 foot 4.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The National Basketball Association has announced plans to cancel another two weeks of the regular season because of the ongoing dispute between players and owners over a new contract.

Commentator Frank Deford says he may have a solution for hoops' fans looking for entertainment.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: For those of you desperately missing basketball until 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 November 12th. 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 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 Peloponnesian War.

The new and improved 21st century AD "Lysistrata," is not quite so high-minded, involving as it does the dreadful basketball team at Athens University, which has a losing streak of Peloponnesian War proportions. But, ta-da, led by a cheerleader named Lyssie Jones, the girlfriends of the basketball players - you can see where this is going - will only play zone defense and deny all amore until the Athens team finally wins a game.

Actually, it's tough to produce sports plays, because it's so hard to act out games in the contained space of a stage. Boxing is thus the easiest to portray. And, in fact, Broadway's most acclaimed sports drama was "The Great White Hope." The best sports musical was about baseball, "Damn Yankees." But it was heavy on Gwen Verdon's dancing and devoid of any hitting and pitching.

Given the limits the stage puts on sports 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 Packer coach, Vince Lombardi, that ran for 274 performances this past year, took place mostly in a living room, just talking about football. But it was successful enough - helped by the Packers' winning the Super Bowl - that the writer and director are now planning a play about the relationship between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

The last basketball hit on Broadway was "That Championship Season," which was about a high-school team's dispiriting middle-age reunion.

Playwrights like to use failed athletes as obvious examples of the promise of youth turned to ashes. Even both our greatest, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, did that - Brick, in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," Biff, in "Death of A Salesman."

But "Lysistrata Jones" actually dares play some real basketball on stage and not just talk about it. In fact, the leading lady, Patti Murin, has to make a layup. You can be sure if the musical succeeds that the critics will cry swish. They'd holler slam dunk, except that Ms. Murin is only five-feet-four.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday from WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And I'm Ari Shapiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.