The (Basketball) Show Must Go On

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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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