Musical takes cue from ancient Greek comedy

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“Give it Up!” is a musical adaptation of Aristophanes’ much loved Greek comedy Lysistrata.   The play, written in 411 B.C., centers on the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens. The conflict arises when the women of Athens, led by title character Lysistrata, refuse sexual relations to the Athenian warriors until the men cease their warfare.  Comic mix-ups ensue.  The play is unusual for an ancient piece, in that its lead character is a woman, and many adaptations have focused on an implied feminist theme.  It is one of the most revived ancient plays because of the significance it still carries in modern society.

“Give it Up!” isn’t Lysistrata any more than Kiss Me, Kate is Taming of the Shrew, so disabuse yourself of that notion now.  The musical takes place at Athens U, where the head cheerleader and her cohorts refuse sex to the male basketball team until they finally break their losing streak.  

Along the way, unlikely romantic matches are made, while racial and gender stereotypes are slyly ridiculed.  This is about as deep as “Give it Up!” ever gets.  For viewers expecting a politically relevant adaptation of Lysistrata, the show is bound to disappoint.  For those of us just looking for entertainment, however, “Give it Up!” delivers.

In the tradition of recent pop musicals, such as “High School Musical”, and rah! rah! cheerleading flicks, like “Bring It On”, the show’s musical numbers are catchy and entertaining, but ultimately forgettable. Though it must be difficult to choreograph around a basketball game, the moves don’t show the caliber of talent present in the show.  Kevin Moriarty, the current artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, has recruited nearly the entire cast and much of the lead technical designers from Broadway.  Resident cast member Liz Mikel shines in a role seemingly designed for her unbelievably powerful voice and comedic timing. She plays the sage Hetairai, who doles out advice in a sarcastic manner.

Patti Murin, who plays Lysistrata, is obviously a very talented triple threat. Although her supporting cast members are equally talented, there seems to be a shortage of opportunities to showcase that talent in “Give it Up!”

The show is a world premiere musical, book by Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu revival) and score by Lewis Flinn.  Its success is important to DTC and its struggle to become a nationally recognized regional theater.  Whether or not the show will make it to Broadway is uncertain, although if “Legally Blonde” can do it any pop musical with a hint of sardonic wit should be able to. Such an event would certainly put Dallas on the map.  With this goal in mind, Moriarty brought in not only the performers, but also the lead designers. The only notable exception was set designer Beowulf Boritt, who has done an amazing job playing with the new space at the Wyly Theatre.  

All in all, “Give it Up!” is a witty and contemporarily relevant musical, though it falls far short of Aristophanes in depth of plot and character.  With fun musical numbers, which incorporate hip-hop rhythms and eclectic pop influences, surprisingly funny moments and the phenomenal Liz Mikel, “Give it Up!” is definitely worth your time: all two and a half hours of it. 

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