Also see Ryan DeFoe's new review of Musical! The Musical!
When Spiro Veloudos became Producing Artistic Director of Boston's Lyric Stage Company, he promised a world premiere of a work by a local playwright. Rounding out his third season with The Curse of the Bambino, Veloudos delivers on that promise. And perhaps what's even more to his credit, he's nurtured the creators David Kruh (book and lyrics) and Steven Bergman (music and lyrics) through a two-year process from first draft, to readings and workshops, to opening night. No doubt, the refinements and improvements will continue through the last performance on June 3 under the capable watch of Music Director Steven Bergman, Choreographer Ilyse Robbins and Veloudos, himself, at the helm.
The show offers a somewhat fictionalized account of the legendary sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees by Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee. Prior to that fateful event, the Red Sox had won five of the first 15 World Series and the Yankees none. As every Red Sox fan knows, in the years since it's been Yankees 26, Red Sox zip. Thus the curse, and thus was born the famous Boston New York rivalry.
In a series of musical numbers, Kruh and Bergman force us to relive the excruciatingly painful details of the near misses between the team's post-WWII rejuvenation and the heartbreak of the sixth game of the 1986 Series with the Mets, which book-ends the show. These numbers are well executed by the "Royal Rooters" (Peter A. Carey, Peter Dupre, Brent Reno and Britton White) who sing and dance everything from boogie woogie to psychedelic rock, always appropriately garbed and coiffured.
Much as I enjoyed these numbers, especially (I can't believe I'm saying this) the Bucky Dent disco one, this is when I most wished for more feminine presence. Some lady fans would have added vocal variety and saved us from having to see four soldiers jitterbug with each other. The one intrepid female in the roster of nine cast members, Eileen Nugent, did represent her gender admirably.
Even with that limitation, the interjected numbers were far more effective than the book songs, none of which managed to fully support or provide forward motion to the rather contrived plot unfolding back in 1920. I suspect that, with all the editing and rewriting that has gone on, the plot is sometimes now there to serve the songs, rather than the other way around.
And missed opportunities abound. Comic possibilities aren't fully explored in act one when a bunch of relative newcomers explain the game to a more recent Russian immigrant, and were bungled again in the second act when he, somewhat redundantly, turns the lesson into "The Beisball Manifesto."
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity, however, was not mining deeper the possibilities suggested by a musical about a man who sold one of baseball's legendary greats to finance No, No, Nanette. According to Gerald Bordman's tome on musical theatre, Frazee fired the entire cast of that show on the road in Detroit and kept after Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans until they gave him "Tea for Two" and "I Want to Be Happy."
Veloudus should keep his cast but follow Frazee's example and admonish his writers. In fact the three of them would not be ill advised to take a little trip to New York to scout out The Producers, another new show about the financial shenanigans of producing a musical. If the hype is even half-true, that team has managed to restore at least the "American" and the "Comedy" to the genre of American Musical Comedy and, once again, create an appetite for new shows and opportunity for new writers.
But before getting in line to buy SRO tickets to The Producers, they should check out A Class Act, a few blocks away. It offers some brief lessons in how to write a musical, and Ed Kleban's songs are examples of how high the bar can be set for each and every one if them.
If Kruh and Bergman understood as much about the craft of writing for musical theatre as they do about the psyche of the Red Sox fan, they'd have a genuine hit on their hands, at least in Boston. The night I saw the show the audience groaned in collective memory as the more recent events unfolded. There may not be vendors tossing bags of peanuts and I can't promise you'll get as big a kick out of the show as Babe Ruth's great-grandson sitting a few rows in front of me, but Veloudos comes out at intermission to give an update of the score, so no one need feel conflicted about not being across town at Fenway Park.
Presented by the Lyric Stage Company Location: 140 Clarendon St. (Copley Square), Boston, MA (in the YWCA Building) Performance Schedule: April 20 - June 3, 2001; Wednesday at 2 PM (May 16th only), Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 3:00 PM.
Box hours: Sunday and Tuesday 12PM to 5PM and Wednesday thru Saturday 12PM to 7PM @ (617) 437-7172 or online at http://lyricstage.com/ Ticket prices: $20 - 36 depending on performance time and seat location.