Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 26, 2013

Johnny Baseball

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 3, 2013
by Walt Haggerty

“Johnny Baseball,” currently “knocking them out of the park” at Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Nikos Stage, is still a work in progress but one that should be seen now for all that it has to offer.

Among its many rewarding elements are an intelligently written book that skillfully blends the story of a dynamic young rookie with the slow, frequently painful, transition of baseball from all white teams to today’s multi-racial rosters.  Another key attribute of this production is a genuinely melodic score – a rare commodity in today’s theatre.

“Johnny Baseball” also deserves bows for its stellar cast of thirteen enormously talented players, many of whom take on multiple roles. They are a joy to watch, especially in audience-pleasing offerings like “Eighty-six Years,”, “One More Run” and “God Bless the Boston Red Sox,” which should become a daily anthem at Fenway Park.

As Johnny O’Brien, James Snyder gives an outstanding, award-worthy performance, visibly growing in character and maturity as early triumphs disappear. Snyder has a powerhouse voice used to advantage in both solos and duets with co-star De’Adre Aziza. Ms. Aziza deservedly stops the show with her performance of “The Shimmy-Shammy Whammy,” as does Snyder with “All I Have to Do.”

Brooks Ashmanskas takes on no less than six secondary characters and manages to inject each with a distinct personality. As Babe Ruth, Tom McGowan, without a great deal of substance to work with, enacts the role of a mentor to young Johnny. Derrick Baskin as Tim Wyatt, and Alan H. Green as Willie Mays, received the evening’s most generous applause with their performance of “See You in the Big Leagues,” an optimistic perspective of what might have been.

The impeccable direction of Gordon Greenberg moves the story forward smoothly and effectively as it traces Red Sox history. Inspired choreography by Denis Jones made full use the exceptional talents of the ensemble.

“Johnny Baseball “ may not be quite ready for the World Series, but it is well on its way to becoming a champion.