The New York Musical Theatre Festival
David Ingber has written a very by-the-numbers faux-biography of the fantasy football craze, imagining how it might have been developed in the early 1990s by two avid fans named Bill Simmons and Matthew Berry. (Yes, that their names are the same as those of the ESPN sports writers is not coincidental. But more on that later.) The two guys, respectively played by Nick Spangler (the winner of last year’s edition of The Amazing Race) and Ben Steinfeld, just out of college and desperate for money and recognition, happen upon the idea as an extension of Bill's foundering bookie business, and the rest of it is history. Well, sort of.
Because this is self-referential comedy in the Urinetown mode, it’s best not to delve too deep into the plot’s vagaries, whether into the head-scratching subplot of Bill's girlfriend, Sarah (Emily McNamara), plying her wares on the Christian rock stages, or one of the genre's foremost proponents, Becky (Sam Tedaldi), showing up and getting involved with the gang. Better to focus on the score, which if not particularly distinctive or psychologically probing is undeniably catchy: Songs with titles like “I Love Sports” (or its more spiritual counterpart, “Sports Is My Religion”), “Straight Guys Like Live Performance Too,” and “The 1980s Montage Song About the Rules of Fantasy Football” wear their pointlessness on their sleeves, but they evince the proper cheerleading aesthetic while not stinting on melody or, believe it or not, period appropriateness. Or Adam Arian’s direction and Nancy Renee Braun’s choreography, which smartly steal from a variety of sources in order to keep the levity level elevated.
Or, if you’d prefer, take a good long gander at Christine Pedi. She brings a pit bull’s ferocity and her own implacable comic common sense to the minor role of Matthew’s struggling mother, making her a real dramatic centerpiece in a show that would otherwise have no use for such a thing - her only solo, “Mommy Mode,” is a thunderous bit of narrative nothing she whips up into a tornado-like showstopper. The other performances are adequate, if not outstanding: The better ones include Jeff Nathan as a die-hard football fanatic and Patrick Benedict as Matthew’s ultra-nerdy brother, both of whom find plenty of funny without trying too hard. Spangler and Steinfeld are a bit off stylistically, too lackadaisical given the show’s heavily parodic bent, but carry the show well enough.
They’re really just there for the name recognition. Ingber conceived the show when the characters’ namesakes riffed on an idea he submitted to a contest the real Simmons and Berry ran - and constructed it in tribute to the men that love the sport Ingber himself so admires. That extra dose of connection gives Fantasy Football: The Musical? an uncharacteristic layer of genuine sweetness. If it’s not enough to completely sell the show as the missing link between the sports and the theatre worlds, it's a nice acknowledgement of the humanity on which both activities so deeply depend.
Fantasy Football: The Musical?