Eric Simonson's Strikeout with Bronx Bombers

Eric Simonson, I kind of love you. With Bronx Bombers - now open at the Circle in the Square Theatre - you have written a third sports-themed play. Yep, a third one. Trying to combine two entities (and their respective audiences) that don’t really assimilate into one venue, I can only applaud your determination, resilience and optimism. And this is after Magic/Bird was both a commercial and a critical bomb and Lombardi’s only substantial triumph was Judith Light being fabulous (which as we have learned two Tonys later, that was practically a given).

But dearest Eric…I say this with love. Fetch has not happened with Bronx Bombers.

This drama follows Yogi Berra over some of the Yankees most controversial moments - starting with the 1977 fallout with Reggie Jackson and leading right up to the closing of the original Yankee Stadium a few years back. There are conflicts, tensions, resolutions, grey area exchanges of morality and lessons (I think) and...Berra’s wife Carmen being…around. She’s a Southern Belle and seems…irrelevant to the story nice.

Oh…and a bizarro dream sequence where the most notorious, for one reason or another, Yankees {Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter} all convene for dinner at the Berra house. Actually, it was at this point where I was really floundering with the material…just what was the point of all this? I suppose it is nostalgic (for Yankees fans, that is) to see the legends all gathered together in one room. And yes, I do understand (and like) the social commentary aspect - the Yankees of yore (think Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth) took pride in being a Yankee, being a part of a team and getting paid any sort of salary just to play baseball for a living. That is quite a departure from the Yankees of now: multi-million dollar contracts are not enough, media disputes and controversy is a weekly activity in their roticon and players tend to overindulge in the spotlight at the expense of the quality of their performance.

But does all of that amount to anything interesting? Not really. And if I were a die-hard Yankees fan, I would be pissed watching a show that reflects on the Yankees history like it is something better then the franchise as it stands now. I mean, it is, for obvious reasons…but for a show billing itself as a celebration of a sports team with a tumultuous past (and present. and future.), the show’s agenda seems contradictory as Simonson tries to both pay homage to the legacy while also pointing out its problems. One or the other wouldn’t have worked, but mixing the two was both misleading and boring.

And when Gehrig starts to succumb to his infamous disease right before the audience’s eyes, I felt like an opportunity was lost. I remained pretty unmoved at what could have been an emotional moment (if he doesn’t already, Simonson should have a Lou Gehrig biopic in his queue). And when the dream sequence concludes, Bombers just fast-forwards to the Yankee Stadium closing. Which would be fine, but trying to jam pack so many characters and pivotal moments of Yankees history - and then time-traveling - meant the show never really sank its teeth into any potentially interesting material or a story arch other then, “I Heart the Yankees...Or Do I?!"

So it goes…and despite some nice performances from the cast - Peter Scolari’s Yogi Berra, CJ Wilson’s spot-on, larger-then-life Babe Ruth and John Wernke’s wide-eyed, altruistic Gehrig - the show never reaches a tier worth praising.

The usual disclaimer remains…Simonson deserves credit for going off the beaten path and I want him so badly to make fetch happen. And despite all the theaters I’ve stepped in and experiences I’ve had, entering the Circle in the Square resonated well, what with the lobby filled with a mini-exhibit and signed memorabilia. Also, patrons sporting Yankees hats and jerseys flocked to the orchestra the night I went - I can’t imagine that happened at Wicked right next door. And hey, I brought my sports-loving, opposite-then-me older brother to the show, which may have been his first non-musical on Broadway. And he liked it, so there’s that! But no grading on a curve here…the show just fails to register anything worthwhile and for a team like the Yankees - who’s tabloid headlines are a spectacle, only third place to Rebecca and Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark - a show about them shouldn’t be unengaging.

Tickets Provided by the Production

Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich

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