Even entering the venue of Johnny Baseball, American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)’s latest production, feels like one has stepped in the midst of a baseball game. The bar is selling beer and peanuts, there is a smell of hot dogs cooking, and one is sitting with all those in a hand, looking on to essentially a baseball diamond. Only when the lights dim and the actors come onto the playing field then does one realize that you’re not actually at a game but watching a theater performance.
I was scared, initially, to see the show because never in my life have I taken even the slightest interest in baseball. My knowledge of the game comes from what pop culture bombards me with (it was hard to ignore the BIG, BOLD headlines back in ’04 when the curse-prone Sox beat the Yankees). Therefore, I was truly surprised that I emerged from the play craving more, wanting the dashing lead, Colin Donnell, to hit a home-run and for the mesmerizing Stephanie Umoh to sing yet another enchanting number.
The musical centers around baseball, Red Sox, and The Curse of the Bambino. Although on first glance, it would seem that the story too revolves around the American sport, one soon realizes that the sport assumes more of the role of a background or a prop to propel a compelling story about love, race, and the communal spirit of watching history happen together. The historic moment is that of the beginning of the end of the 86-year old Red Sox curse breaking in 2004. This is the year the play starts from and ends in, but along the path, takes many dives into history and the audience meets characters such as Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. The dives are taken to help put together a fictional story of why the curse was there in the first place. Interjected in the intriguing story are foot-tapping musical numbers that one cannot help but clap to. And the cast sings them with contagious enthusiasm.
Johnny Baseball is playing at the Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square, Cambridge which is extended by popular demand to July 11