Unauthorized Musical Parody Series: A League of Their Own
Batter up, Hear that call!
The time has come for one and all
To play ball!
1992’s A League of Their Own was inspired by the true story of the first female professional baseball league and became a movie classic. Set during World War II, A League of Their Own starred then-heavy hitters Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna as the trailblazing female baseball players, and gave audiences an iconic Tom Hanks role. The Unauthorized Musical Parody (of) Series at Rockwell Table & Stage is full of trailblazers, so it seemed a natural fit that they would take on another film favorite for their next musical. Unfortunately, UMPO: A League of Their Own isn’t quite a home run like some of their past productions… More like a triple.
To be clear, the production is in no way a letdown; it’s even difficult to pinpoint where UMPO: A League of Their Own doesn’t quite click. It is a very enjoyable experience and night out at the theater, and the actors and band bring ample energy and talent to the stage. I think the issues I have with the show mostly stem from the script. While the production touches on all the memorable moments of the film – the surprise bare-handed catch, the annoying little Stuart, drunken Marla, and of course “There’s no crying in baseball” – the connecting thread, the team’s love of the game, seems to have gotten lost, with less game-playing and more “winks” to the crowd. Instead, the runtime is filled with irrelevant songs for side characters (all of which are performed fabulously) which detract from the main story. This results in an entertaining and well-done disjointed Cliff’s Notes version of the narrative.
In my opinion, it is an odd choice to bookend (and sometimes interrupt) the show with a Penny Marshall character directing the film. As an introduction and welcome to the show, I somewhat get the cheeky Marshall role, telling the audience to interact and post photos or videos and to have a good time, but the interruption during the show made no sense to me, and lacked comedic oomph.
The film version begins and ends with the reunion of the team after many years. While the production does not have to follow the film, it seems strange to begin the actual show (after the Marshall introduction) with Dottie debating on whether to go to the reunion, and then not include the bookend of the reunion itself. Along the same lines, how do you do a musical version of A League of Their Own and not include Madonna’s hit “This Used to be My Playground?” The addition of the ending reunion could have included the nicely emotional touch of seeing the women sing that classic together.
UMPO: A League of Their Own – like all UMPO shows – is full of amazingly talented actors (6 badass women and 2 fearless men). The casting in particular is spot-on for Dottie (Natalie Masini, Scissorhands) and Kit (Amanda Kruger). Masini, statuesque and collected, really shines in this show after having only a little to do in Scissorhands. She oozes charisma and you just can’t hate her for being so perfect. Kruger’s frenetic energy and over-enthusiasm is perfect for the eager little sister who doesn’t quite live up to her older sister. The rest of the actresses making up the Rockwell Peaches – Molly Stilliens (UMPO: Jurassic Park), Gina D’Acciaro, Katie Powers and Nohely Quiroz – all get a chance to command the stage in the magnificent group numbers. In a clever way to introduce the team, they each sing a snippet of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” before coming together in the rousing chorus. I absolutely loved it. They all nail their solos and choreography (especially Powers) – there isn’t a weak link in the bunch.
The two male cast members – Chris Fore and Jeffrey Landman – are great supporting players. Fore sweats and gawks incredulously as drunken Jimmy Dugan. His duet with Quiroz (as Betty) on “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is a blast. And Landman runs the gamut as several different characters throughout the show. However, it might have been helpful to have at least one more male actor to help distinguish the many smaller roles in the show. Sometimes it was hard to tell who Landman was supposed to be in a given scene, even with a costume change. The cast could also use one more female to play Evelyn Gardner, since Fore stepping into that role briefly and reimagining her as a fumbling blind woman is jarring and doesn’t quite land.
In most UMPO shows, the song choices follow the given time period; Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You stuck to mostly ‘90s hits, and Stranger Things had a lot of ‘80s songs. The problem with a musical being set during WWII is the lack of popular songs to use. While I understand the inclusion of “Like a Virgin” and “Like a Prayer” for Mae’s (Powers) songs, it was strange to hear Doris (Stilliens) sing “Before He Cheats” regardless of how well she sings it (which is amazing). This lack of cohesion makes UMPO: A League of Their Own feel a bit less thought-out than some of their other offerings.
Emma Hunton (UMPO: Stranger Things and Scissorhands), in her directorial debut, had a challenging task of taking an awkward script and making it into something entertaining, and she succeeds with flying colors. Because despite all the criticisms, I was still thoroughly entertained and enjoyed the show immensely; I just prefer some of the other UMPO shows more. The cast is electric and magnetic, the band is on point, the choreography by Mallory Butcher is fun and inclusive of some baseball moves, and the video projections on the walls add to the ambiance. I just wish the script had given Hunton and her very capable cast a better chance of knocking it out of the ballpark.