SBD/February 7, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Eric Simonson's "Bronx Bombers" Makes Broadway Debut To Mixed Reviews

The play "BRONX BOMBERS" on Thursday night opened on Broadway to mixed reviews. USA TODAY gives the play two stars out of four and notes it is the "third in a 'sports series for stage'" conceived by FRAN KIRMSER and written by ERIC SIMONSON. In the production, which is playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre, "changing times are noted with predictable obviousness" (USA TODAY, 2/7). In N.Y., Charles Isherwood writes with the Yankees and MLB Properties among its presenters, "you can be sure" that the play "will not throw too many spitballs or even inside fastballs in the direction of the sport." The drama "inherent in clashing egos" gives the play "some natural juice in the early innings." But the suspense about whether Yankees manager BILLY MARTIN "will be axed" -- and YOGI BERRA "will agree to replace him -- more or less gets benched in the play's second act." Yankees fans may not find the second act's "sudden lurch into fantasy" with a dinner scene featuring players from throughout team history "particularly worrisome." But the play "doesn't negotiate the move from the real world to the dream world very smoothly" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/7).

TWO THUMBS UP: In N.Y., Joe Dziemianowicz gives the play three stars out of five, and writes "all the rigorous exercise -- along with some canny tweaks" the play received before moving to Broadway "has paid off." The "central tension -- a perennial Yankee saga about team tradition versus personal stardom -- is better illuminated." The "formerly bipolar halves of the show -- part drama, part dream sequence -- now fit together better." There is a new "expanded presence" of BABE RUTH as played by C.J. WILSON. The "bigger-than-life Sultan of Swat bridges the past and the present, the real and the mythic as the show becomes a fantasy" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/7). MLB.com's Mark Newman writes the play is a "poignant production about Yankees legends" with an "enjoyable script." Actor FRANCOIS BATTISTE as REGGIE JACKSON "practically steals the entire show" during the play's first act, and "drew a loud ovation as he left the set." Theatergoers were "surrounded by Yankees memorabilia," including the '77 World Series trophy (MLB.com, 2/7).

DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Frank Scheck wrote actor PETER SCOLARI is "touching and funny as the ever-awkward" Berra. The "moving final scene, set in the Yankees locker room on the day of the final game at the original stadium, will surely strike a chord with nostalgists." But the play is "ultimately too lightweight to score a theatrical home run" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 2/6). VULTURE.com's Jesse Green wrote Scolari in the first act offers a "deft embodiment if not impersonation of Berra" and "smartly undercuts the desperate mannerisms by suggesting an intelligence crafty enough to have devised them on purpose." But the play "completely falls apart after that." Perhaps the producers "aren’t sure where they’re aiming to be." Green: "As Yogi probably didn’t say: 'If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else'" (VULTURE.com, 2/6). The HUFFINGTON POST's David Finkle wrote under the header, "'Bronx Bombers' Fields Yogi Berra Well Enough" (HUFFINGTONPOST.com, 2/6).

HEADED FOR THE AISLES: The AP's Mark Kennedy writes the changes to the play since its off-Broadway shows are "not enough to make it more than Yankee advertising." When it comes to drama, the play "strikes out looking" (AP, 2/7). NBCNEWYORK.com's Robert Kahn writes the play is "a jock drama that will appeal to any Yankees fanatic, but leave others restless in the bleachers" (NBCNEWYORK.com, 2/7). BROADWAYWORLD.com's Michael Dale writes under the header, "Bronx Bombers Still Bushleague Material" (BROADWAYWORLD.com, 2/7). THEWRAP.com's Robert Hofler wrote it is "not unusual for screenwriters to direct their own scripts, but they’re working in collaboration with a cinematographer and an editor." Playwrights like Simonson who direct their own plays "don’t have that buffer, and this production of 'Bronx Bombers' is a textbook example of why they should stick to writing" (THEWRAP.com, 2/6). VARIETY's Marilyn Stasio writes marketing the play "might be more of a challenge" than with the production team's earlier "LOMBARDI" and "MAGIC/BIRD." Stasio asks, "With the exception of the baseball-crazy Japanese, can you sell the Broadway tourist audience on this rah-rah cheer for the home team?" The play is "noticeably lacking in drama." What will "bring out the fans" is "cameo appearances from the greatest players in the annals of Yankee history" (VARIETY.com, 2/6). EW.com's Melissa Rose Bernardo wrote over Simonson's three Broadway plays, his "efforts become more diluted and the stories more far-fetched." The play's "manufactured plot doesn't even begin to approach believability," as the second act "imagines Yankees past and present at a mashed-potato banquet together" (EW.com, 2/6).
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