DTC’s world premiere sports musical ‘Give It Up’ shoots and scores
ON THE BOARDS
GIVE IT UP! at the Wyly
Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Through Feb. 14.
The last time the Dallas Theater Center attempted sports onstage, the results were disastrous. Last season’s Back Back Back, about steroids in professional baseball, seemed to be conceived, cast, acted and directed by people who had only an academic understanding of sports. If you’re gonna do a play with characters inspired by Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, you’d better have men who look like they could arm wrestle Miley Cyrus and win.
So the announcement that the next big show would be set in the world of college basketball didn’t inspire much confidence. But Give It Up, now at the Wyly Theatre, is not so much about athletics as it is the battle of the sexes; the fact the actors actually seem like they could dribble and dunk is icing. And while it may not sink one from the three-point line (and even drops a few easy lay-ups), this world premiere musical shoots and scores.
Inspired by Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, playwright Douglas Carter Beane and composer/lyricist Lewis Flinn have concocted a pop comedy about members of a college cheerleading squad — led by Lysistrata Jones (Patti Murin) — who withhold sex from their losing and libidinous cagers until they at least try to win a game.
The premise has been a staple of sitcoms for long enough that Give It Up can’t offer many new insights, but it does trod old ground in new Nikes. Yes, there are stereotypes (Lyssy herself seems excessively dumb), but some are improved upon: The granola-eating campus crusader (Curtis Holbrook) is made adorable, while the shrill brainiac (Lindsey Nicole Chambers) is softened. Even the "hooker with a heart of gold" becomes a source of sly laughs in the hands of the indomitable Liz Mikel. And the gay plotline (visible a mile off) is handled with sunny affection.
Beane’s dialogue is fresh and contemporary ("They’ll be stiffer than Tiger Woods at a cocktail waitress convention" Lyssy promises), even as he and Flinn magpie from other musicals, cherry-picking plot points and song styles from Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, Legally Blonde, Altar Boyz and The Full Monty, with bits of 300, Jersey Shore and Clueless thrown in. Flinn’s songs have a catchy pop sensibility, although some seem a decade out of date (the boy-band harmonies on "Lay Low" recall *NSync more than Jonas Brothers), and they are sung terrifically well by the talented cast. (Despite being all hairless man-boys, the guys are all handsome muscle studs who can actually sing and dance director Dan Knechtges’ flashy choreography.)
Still, they make a few ill-conceived decisions, such as both keeping many of the character names from the original and referencing the play directly (creating a weird chicken-and-egg dilemma), and letting some if not most of the songs stretch on too long. Having a set that looks like a bathroom doesn’t work either (a reference to the Roman baths, maybe? Nah, too much classicism, and the wrong part of the empire).
Give It Up sits alongside works like The List in its contribution to feminism, which is to say, "not much." But who cares? As adaptations of Greek comedy go, it’s much better than that overrated chestnut A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Sexy, youthful and energetic ain’t such a bad thing — in sports or theater.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 29, 2010.