Sunday, June 6, 2010

"JOHNNY BASEBALL": Take Me Out to the Theater

"Johnny Baseball" is a love song to two Great American Pastimes: Baseball and Old-Fashioned Musical Comedy

I grew up on musicals. Now, this wasn't an obsession, but more of an escape and an inspiration. I didn't, like a childhood friend, make an audio reel-to-reel recording on a portable tape recorder, IN the movie theater, of Barbra Streisand's cinema debut in "Funny Girl". (I did once produce a musical number in a friend's garage, lipsynching Connie Francis's "Lipstick On Your Collar" to the bewildered encouragement of family and friends.) And I was in awe, in the sixth grade, of the Asian girl in my class who was in a production of The King and I (By 9th grade, I spent a summer as Randolph MacAphee in "Bye Bye Birdie" in a summer stock theater in Olde Orchard Beach.)
So, with the world premiere of a new musical opening at the American Repertory Theater, I took advantage of every opportunity to see "Johnny Baseball" through the various ticket offers that were made available during final previews and opening week. I saw three performances: the final preview on Tuesday, and then a Saturday matinee and the Sunday evening show.
It just keeps getting stronger. As the show settles in, the powerhouse cast has continued to grow more and more confident, and by Sunday night everything soared. It's hard to single any one of them out. Every cast member has their individual shining moments, and together they create a stunning ensemble.
"Johnny Baseball" embraces the sentiments and structure of an old-fashioned musical. It's a beautifully produced show, and audiences love it. In her Boston Globe review, Louise Kennedy said that the fans would decide if it's a hit. I know, for sure, that they have: It is!!!
I've heard the questions, "Could it play in NY?" "Is it 'too Boston' ?"
I think it could, but I have an idea:
I'd love to see it develop into a long-running show, another "Shear Madness", with a Boston cast as strong and multi-talented as the originals. I'd put it on Lansdowne Street and make it a "destination show', let it sit and develop into a production audiences are drawn to Boston to see.
Whatever the future, see it now. Bring the family: I've seen how it works for a hugely wide and varied demographic of audiences, all ages and races.
And you know what? I've been going to the Loeb since 1970 (I recall seeing the late Christopher Reeve as MacHeath in a summer production of The Threepenny Opera, for you local theater historians, and was in a student-directed Most Happy Fella in 1971), and it's kinda fun eating hotdogs in the theater.

And, I love thinking about the possibilities: Just as I hope The Donkey Show can encourage its audience to come back to the theater, I wonder "what if Red Sox Nation not only embraced this show, but got hooked on going to others?"

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