Bob Goepfert Reviews "Johnny Baseball"
“Johnny Baseball” playing at the Nikos Theatre of the Williamstown Theatre Festival is both a musical about baseball and an interracial love story. The two are connected through the racism of baseball, specifically the Boston Red Sox, who were one of the last team in major league baseball to sign a black ballplayer.
Each is an interesting play by itself. The baseball musical is cute, delightful fun that focuses on the angst of Boston Red Sox fans who suffered under the supposed curse of the Bambino (Babe Ruth). It mixes historical figures and fictional characters to entertain with happy songs (music by Robert Reale and lyrics by Willie Reale) about the sport.
The love story is tender and touching. It tells the story of Johnny O’Brien a young pitching phenom who falls in love with an aspiring African-American jazz singer. The Red Sox break up the relationship because it will generate hostile fan relationship for the rising star now known as Johnny Baseball.
He loses his fast ball and becomes a drunk. She goes to Paris and becomes an international singing star. They meet 28 years later. He’s a recovered alcoholic and a manger in the minor leagues. She has a son who wants to be a big league pitcher and she seeks his help.
At the heart of the show is the issue of race relations. Book writer Richard Dresser claims the real curse that kept the Sox from winning a world series was their bigotry toward black players. He supports his theory by pointing out they did pass on signing both Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays .
Though each segment is thoughtful and entertaining, the stories tend to collide with each other. Yes, they are linked, but they split the focus of the play and neither gets its just due.
“Johnny Baseball” does have some great moments and is well performed. James Snyder is sincere as the young naïve Johnny, and as he matures throughout the play he develops a strong character and a sense of self. Deadre Aziza is sweet and the young innocent Daisy and with age becomes at sultry sophisticated woman. She has a smoldering style of singing that is lovely and sexy.
The large supporting cast is fun as goofy Red Sox fans and each show strong dramatic skills in the more serious love story. Best among them is Tom McGowen who makes Babe Ruth a playboy with a heart of gold.
“Johnny Baseball,” at the Nikos Stage of Williamstown Theatre Festival. Through Saturday. For tickets and scheduling information 413-597-3400
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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