Monday, May 24, 2010

"Johnny Baseball" at the American Repertory Theater - A Heads-Up About A Work-In-Progress

There is a world premiere being staged at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge of a new musical - "Johnny Baseball." If ever there were a perfect conjunction of two important parts of my world, this musical represents that ideal intersection of my love for the Red Sox and for musical theater.

This Blog piece is not a formal review of the show, which is still in previews and still being "tweaked" prior to the formal opening on June 2. I will write a more formal review after I have seen the show again the evening of June 3. But I want to give readers of The White Rhino Report an advance look at this wonderful new work.

Here is how the A.R.T. website describes the show's concept:

"It traces the origin of the Curse to a collision of three orphaned souls: Johnny O’Brien, a hard-luck right-hander on the 1919 Sox; his idol, Babe Ruth; and Daisy Wyatt, a dazzling African-American blues singer and the love of Johnny’s life. These three lives contain both the reason for the Curse and the secret to its end off the bat of Big Papi in 2004. Johnny Baseball packs a thoughtful commentary on American social history into a fun and spirited musical that will bring cheers and tears to baseball fans everywhere."

I saw the show on Saturday with two friends who share my love for theater, music and baseball. They were just as enchanted and thrilled by this new musical as was I. The casting of the show is perfect. Burke Moses looks just like a young Babe Ruth, and when he runs around the bases, he channels the Babe's mincing steps with uncanny precision. Colin Donnell, as Johnny "Baseball" O'Brien is an Irish Tenor who could have walked right out of central casting or off the sands of the L Street Beach in South Boston. Stephanie Umoh as Daisy Wyatt is a delight - iridescent in beauty and incandescent in talent. This show is at its core an ensemble piece, with fans in the stands functioning as a Greek Chorus with the most pitch-perfect Boston accents ever to grace a stage.

The structure of the show and the action toggles back and forth between the Red Sox of 1919 and Game 4 of the American League Championship Series of 2004 between the Red Sox and the Yankees. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will share that the writers have taken a bold and very insightful approach to handling the mythology of "The Curse." There is a curse - quite literally as portrayed on this staged - but it is not the traditional "Curse of the Bambino." The curse, as dramatized in "Johnny Baseball" is portrayed as the twin banes of mismanagement by Red Sox ownership over several decades and the persistent racism by the last team to hire a black player in 1959 - 12 years after Jackie Robinson had broken baseball's color line.

The play will run through the month of June in Cambridge. Stay tuned to this space for more discussion about the show, but do not wait for the formal review to secure your tickets. This show should not be missed.

I have talked with several former Red Sox players about this show, and they plan to attend. So, when you come to the theater, look around you for some familiar faces. At Saturday's performance, there was an older gentleman in the audience (he appeared ever older than The White Rhino!) in full Red Sox uniform. In the Q&A session with the writer, composer and director that followed the performance, they expressed delight that audience members had chosen to come to the theater dressed as they might be for a trip to Fenway Park.

I encourage you to visit the A.R.T. website for more information about the show and its development.

A.R.T. "Johnny Baseball" link

Enjoy. I hope to see you there.


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