How I Listened to the Lysistrata Jones Soundtrack Four Times in One Bus Ride.

5 Jul

At the start of every summer I swear to myself I’m gonna start listening to more song artists and bands. Y’know, cut back on showtunes and Disney, and listen to “real” music. That’s what I tell myself… and, every summer, without fail, I fall in love with an entirely new musical. Last summer it was Book of Mormon, the summer before it was the showtunes of Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, then Next to Normal, then In The Heights, then Spring Awakening, etc. etc. etc.

Well this summer, as of today, I am in love with Lysistrata Jones.

This really is a new development, seeing as of twelve hours ago I only knew two songs from the entire show. It’s been sitting on my iPod, unlistened to for a couple weeks now. The only reason I went and hunted it down in the first place was because of the song ‘When She Smiled’ – I’m in love with the Andrew Rannells version of that song – but really had no interest in actually listening to the entire soundtrack… or so it would’ve seemed.

Then today I had a seven hour long greyhound bus ride to deal with. When finally on the bus (after a stressful ordeal of almost missing said bus and having the bus driver yell at me), I was nestled up on my bus seat, tuckered out and wanting to sleep. I realized I had three unheard soundtracks on my iPod: Newsies, Once, and Lysistrata Jones. I was really only looking for music to fall asleep to at the time, so I selected Lysistrata Jones, closed my eyes, and prepared to sleep, figuring I’d listen to the other two soundtracks later on the bus.

I never listened to Newsies or Once.

I’m sure jaws have dropped by now, seeing as I snubbed the two most popular musicals on Broadway this year (based on two of my all time favorite films) for this somewhat shallow seeming musical, but I’ve quite honestly had a hard time getting into these two musicals as well. The film version of Newsies is so near and dear to my heart, that whenever I try to listen to the Broadway version I get angry over the whole purpose of ‘Sante Fe’ being changed, that Max Casella is no longer Racetrack, that Denton’s a chick, and so on. I realize the changes they made were for the better and I have no doubt someday the musical will grow on me, but for now I prefer Christian Bale’s (terrible) singing to whoever the new Jack Kelly is. The Broadway version of Once, on the other hand, sounds just like a bunch of covers of Glen and Markita’s music. What I’ve heard is beautiful, but I guess I just haven’t been in a mood for it much as of late (though, I will say, their version of ‘Gold’ is astonishingly gorgeous).

So, yes, Lysistrata Jones.

I’m sure most of you know the tale of Lysistrata. The story of all the wives of Athenian warriors who hold out on sex until their husbands end the war? Right. Well. Lysistrata Jones is about a college where the boy’s basketball team never wins, so their girlfriends hold out on sex until they win a game. Oh. And a Greek Goddess narrates and also acts as the mistress of a nearby brothel.

I know. It sounds kind of awful, doesn’t it?

That’s what I thought when I turned it on, thinking it was just going to be my background music to fall asleep to, but what follows is clear evidence that it’s more than what its shitty summary leads you to believe (which is probably why it closed so quickly on Broadway).

LISTEN #1 –> CATCHY MUSIC

I did drift in and out of sleep upon my first listen, but I was still lucid enough to grasp that the music was really damn catchy. I wasn’t paying very close attention to the lyrics, just kind of gleaning the bare minimum of what was going on in each song. I caught lines that said things such as “No sexo!” “Do your duty, no more booty!” and “That’s why God invented porn!”, which made me inwardly roll my eyes. It was proving to be everything I had expected it to be, leaving me very unimpressed.

Don’t think Aristophanes had this in mind when he wrote the original.

So I wasn’t paying much attention, dozing a bit and such, not caring much. Cut to one of the last songs, ‘Right Now: Operetta’, and suddenly my interests became peaked. Suddenly these characters became… well, more fleshed out. I had absolutely no clue what was going on in the song (since I hadn’t been paying much attention leading up to it), but suddenly the characters were no longer 2D caricatures of ditzy/jock-y college students. Emotions were being expressed and fears were being concerned. This confused me. What happened to the campy, silly musical I had been listening to?

Then the final number of the show (‘Give It Up’) came on, and suddenly it was uplifting and inspirational and, Jesus, was I so confused.

This is the day we start to fight
This is the moment I’ve been waiting on
For what seems like an eternity

I am a match that you ignite
And letting go of every expectation
Reservation, deprivation, liberation

The song also kept repeating the line: “Give it up, whatever’s keeping you from being you.” It’s such a simple phrase, which left me astounded at how much it literally effected my person. It suddenly dawned on me that maybe this was more than just a musical about girls holding off on their boyfriends.

So I gave it a second listen.

LISTEN #2 –> LISTENING TO THE LYRICS

(The soundtrack, by the way, is only a little over an hour long, hence how I listened to it so many times in one sitting.)

This time through I actually stayed awake for the entirety of the soundtrack and was able to get a (shaky) grasp on the plot. The plot, while still is basically the whole withholding sex story, also has many different facets and subplots to it, which can be kind of confusing when you dive in head first. I didn’t have a plot book to follow and I had no bearings of the relationships between the characters, so I spent most of this listen-through paying attention to the lyrics and music. While I already knew the score was catchy, the fact of the matter is this: Lysistrata Jones has a great soundtrack.

Of course, not every song is a keeper. I could take or leave ‘Party Time’ and ‘Don’t Judge a Book’, I tend to skip the last two numbers on the soundtrack (‘Never Say No’ and the redone ‘Hold On’), and I still have absolutely no idea what ‘Writing on the Wall’ is about because THAT’S how unforgettable that song is.

That being said, Jones has got some absolutely incredible music, such as: ‘Right Now: Operetta’, ‘Hold On’, ‘You Go Your Way’, ‘Where am I Now’, ‘When She Smiles’, and ‘Give It Up’. These songs are, to me, the best of the show, but I think pretty much every number is stellar (and definitely good dance music). They’re very campy and fun, and that’s kind of what I’m looking for in a musical right now. I think ‘Hold On’ may be my favorite as of right now (Jason Tam, I wanna be all up on you), since it has an absolutely lovely message tied in with it.

They marched down Pennsylvania Avenue
Plant a tree! Make it green!
No more carbon! Keep it clean!
They held their banners high till their fingers all turned blue
Well I know mother earth still cries in pain
As long as I can taste the salt of her tears
I know the fight must still remain
See, I know you gotta hold on
Don’t let go
In the morning when the lights are low
You gotta hold on, hold on, hold on

You can watch the awesome Jason Tam perform this song here (and understand why I’d very much like to jump his bones).

So this listen through hooked me with the songs and reeled me back in for more, which explains why…

LISTEN #3 –> TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE CHARACTERS

The most annoying thing about listening to this soundtrack, and let me make this abundantly clear: all of the actors and actresses sound alike.

There were seriously three characters I could differentiate from the group (Cleonice, Cinesias, and ‘Uardo), and that’s only because they had either Hispanic or Brooklyn accents (and also Hetaira, since her voice is a bit older than the rest of the cast’s). Because of this, and because I’ve never seen this show, it made it really hard to understand what was going on at times. It wasn’t until listening to it my fourth time that I realized Robin and Myrrhine were not the same character. Plus the character of Xander is never introduced via song (unlike everyone else in the show) so when he randomly popped up for ‘Hold On’ I was just like, “Ummmm… who is this (gorgeous) voice singing?” I also didn’t realize Xander was singing during ‘Operetta’, and I thought his part was Mick’s, so, yeah, lots of confusion to be had.

Props to casting for having a really ethnically diverse cast.

That being said, I did have a really fun (though at times aggravating) time deciphering the characters and learning all about them.

After I moved past that confusion, I started gathering character’s backgrounds. I was able to match up characters to songs and relationship, grasping their stance in the musical better. My best revelation was when I realized the song ‘When She Smiles’, which I’ve loved so much for so long, wasn’t directed at the protagonist. It made me incredibly giddy, finding out I was wrong after all this time.

And, hey, I had already listened to it three times to make the bus ride go faster, so…

LISTEN #4 –> CONNECTING WITH THE MUSICAL

By now I had gained a better understanding of the musical as a whole, and I now knew that while this musical comes off as a raunchy comedy about girls, guys, and sex, there is definitely an under layer to it. The first act really is the more satirical of the two, but the second act is where the characters become more fleshed out, since that’s where things start to get real for them. I love the character of Lysistrata, because she’s a good example of having a belief and sticking to it. Is it a ridiculous belief? Mayhaps, but it’s still awesome to see her become independent and self-reliant. The characters of Tyllis, Mick, Robin, and Myrrhine all really grew a lot as well.

The character that changed the most for me over the course of the day was Cinesias. Upon first listen he just came off as a white punk who was trying to be a “gangsta” or a “playa”, and he quite frankly annoyed me a lot. I didn’t understand the depth of what his character goes through  in ‘Don’t Judge a Book’ until the fourth listen, but I see that moment in the play as a big revelation for his character. While he wants to seem this certain way to all of his friends, he just can’t because he really is a good guy. The most heart rendering line he has in the show is:

“Just don’t know who I’m supposed to be,
Don’t you understand?
I’m tired of being me.”

The line was almost thrown away, which left me amazed because I think it’s such a crucial line to the show. That’s when it hit me: this is a play about the struggles of maintaining, not only a relationship, but one’s own self-image in a college setting.

While the characters are in this strange situation, and yes the comedy is a bit ridiculous in hopes to gain some laughs, there’s a sense to it of these characters being so unsure of themselves. At the end of ‘Operetta’ there’s a moment where all the students sing of their own, personal fears, their lyrics beautifully intertwining with each others, displaying how this can be a scary age at times for just about anybody. To exemplify this idea even further, Lysistrata ends the first act with the (show stopping) number ‘Where Am I Now?’

Where am I now? How am I here?
Which way do I turn when it’s all so unclear?
I’m standing alone with nothing but fear
Where am I now, now that I’m here?

Maybe I’m digging a little deep, but this to me really is a musical of people my own age coming to terms with themselves, which I find comforting. I know it’s something I’m gonna be dealing a lot with this upcoming year.

Now, I wrote an entry a while back about how Spring Awakening helped me come to terms with my own sexuality, and that’s where this musical differs. While sex is definitely a heavy subject in the show, it’s never really an issue people struggle with (except possibly Robin). It’s an issue, just not of the same magnitude as in Awakening, which I sort of like. It’s nice seeing a musical where there are female leads that have a handle on their sex lives.

Oh Jason Tam… ❤

So is this a musical for everyone? Definitely not. But is this a musical for me? Definitely yes.

Is this all there really is?
Just endless games of making do
Putting up with second best
Always wanting new
Wanting something better
To shake me to my core
Something magic, something more
I want more

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