'Johnny Baseball' brings us a singing Babe Ruth

Zach Curtis, Joshua James Campbell and Timotha Lanae.
Zach Curtis, Joshua James Campbell and Timotha Lanae.
Photo courtesy Park Square Theatre
Zach Curtis has long dreamed of playing Babe Ruth onstage, so when he learned that Park Square Theatre had a production of Johnny Baseball, a new musical that featured the Bambino, he "came onto the show pretty aggressively. If this is a play about Babe Ruth, I want to play him."

Curtis emailed director Doug Scholz-Carlson, who had just agreed to direct the production. "Zach was the first person I thought of for the role," Scholz-Carlson says.

The musical traces the history of the Boston Red Sox between their world championships in 1918 and 2004. Legend has it that the sale of Ruth, a star pitcher on the rise as a hitter, cursed the team for those decades, leaving them oh-so-close to another championship on many occasions.

The musical, featuring a book by Richard Dresser (an avid Red Sox fan) and music by Robert and Willie Reale (Yankees' fans), primarily examines baseball's uneasy relationship with race in the first part of the century, as black players were long banned from the major leagues. Even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, there was resistance from players and fans. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate, not adding a black player until the late 1950s.

For Curtis, there were a number of reasons for the appeal of Ruth. "He is such a well-known figure. Everybody knows what Babe Ruth was like. There is this mythic character that has been built up around him," he says. "He is really a fun character in the play. He's like the Falstaff of the play."

The show takes place in the crowd of a game, with the people in the stands sharing the story and then stepping into to play the various roles. Along with Curtis, the show stars Joshua James as the title character and Timotha Lanae plays blues singer Daisy, who steals James's heart.

"The biggest challenge is that the story telling is so fluid, moving from scene to scene to scene," Scholz-Carlson says.

The company, director, and creative team have worked closely together to bring the show together, from set designer Michael Hoover to choreographer Jim Lichtscheidl, who Curtis has known for years (and was the choreographer on the first musical he directed, Debbie Does Dallas).  

"He has such a creative mind, you want to have him in the room. And there is so much body language in baseball," Scholz-Carlson says.

Rehearsals have mainly included the full ensemble, who has worked to build the show together. "I am always a believer in smart actors. If you can give them a big picture, all these really great actors can find this moment of truth," Scholz-Carlson says.

While the play centers on baseball and the Red Sox, it can connect to any sports fan -- especially those who have dedicated themselves to a team that is perennially close. (How are you doing, Vikings fans?)

"People who like baseball will enjoy the show. It is engrossed with the topic. It's the same way for people who don't like Vince Lombardi but love Lombardi as a show. There is a lot of sports love here," Curtis says.


Johnny Baseball
Park Square Theatre
20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul
Previews through Thursday, opens Friday-Febraury 10
$48 and $68
For more information, call 651.291.7005 or visit online.  
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