Johnny Baseball mixes fact and fiction. The fact is that the Red Sox went 86 years without a World Series win. While the real reasons for that are complicated and varied (and in my opinion can mostly be attributed to the fact that baseball is a funny game, and sometimes things just don't go your way), one popular theory is that the Red Sox were cursed because they sold their star player, Babe Ruth, to the Yankees in 1920, beginning a streak of Yankee dominance in World Series (that I as a Twins fan find frustrating and unfair, but don't get me started about the Damn Yankees!). Johnny Baseball proposes an alternate theory to the so-called "Curse of the Bambino." While this theory is just as preposterous, it works well as the conceit of the show (except for the fact that this curse happened in 1948, which doesn't explain the first 30 years). We begin with modern-day Red Sox fans agonizing over a game (specifically, game 4 of the 2004 ALCS), when an old man in a Yankees hat begins to tell a story. We then flash back to the 1918 Red Sox season, when a fictional rookie pitcher named Johnny O'Brien joins real life star Babe Ruth. Johnny meets and falls in love with "colored girl" singer Daisy, and things don't go well for them, as to be expected in 1918. We continue on through history to Babe's death in 1948 and later, as Johnny and Daisy (and, presumably, the entire Red Sox nation) experience the consequences of their relationship. It's really a tragic story of love lost and talent wasted, but the tone of the show is mostly hopeful and happy.
|Red Sox fans agonize over Game 4|
|Johnny throws a pitch as the ladies watch|
Everything about the baseball part of this show is fantastic and spot-on, from the opening number "Eight-Six Years" (we're going on 22 years without a championship here in Minnesota so I feel the pain!), to the love/hate relationship with a handsome opposing player in "Not Rivera," to the desperate pleas of baseball fans in "One More Run" (both feelings to which I can relate), to the beautiful and poetic ode to the magic of baseball in Johnny's song "All I Have to Do." "See You in the Big Leagues" is a fun and catchy song, and Daisy's nightclub number "Color Me Blue" is wonderfully bluesy. However, the non-baseball parts of the show could perhaps benefit from a little more development. The lackluster love song "Mr. Moon" is a little too "Somewhere Out There" (Timotha and Josh deserve a better song), and while the staging of the love song "God Wouldn't Mind" is cute, the words are less cute than creepy. I also didn't love the penultimate number "Errors" (Sondheim did it better in "No One Is Alone"/"Children Will Listen"). But with a few more tweaks the creators could have a really successful show on their hands, wherever they take it next. I'm thrilled to have gotten the chance to experience this new work.
Most of all, this show speaks directly to my baseball-loving heart and makes me anxious for the end of the long off-season. Only 29 days until the first Twins Spring Training game! Until then, head to downtown St. Paul between now and Feb. 10 to experience the joy, frustration, and community that comes with the love of the game. (Or head over to the good old HHH Metrodome this weekend for TwinsFest 2013 to meet some of the players before they head down to Fort Myers, as well as great players from Twins baseball history, like Tony O, Rod Carew, and one of my personal faves from the glory days of the late 80s, Frankie V). Let's play ball!