The tenderhearted, super sappy New York Yankees tribute Bronx Bombers, which just transferred to Broadway’s Circle in the Square after a short Off-Broadway run, really ought to be playing in Cooperstown as a sort of sideshow for tourists visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame. It could be done with animatronics instead of actors, a la “The Hall of Presidents” at Disney World.
Eric Simonson, a minor playwright and director, is now best known for his ongoing series of unapologetically upbeat and lightweight plays focusing on sports icons such as Lombardi (i.e. Vince Lombardi) and Magic/Bird (i.e. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird). They are so lacking in drama that they feel like souvenir books.
Bronx Bombers opens in 1977, with worried coach Yogi Berra (Peter Scolari) attempting to mediate a truce between hotshot player Reggie Jackson (Francois Battiste), sturdy team captain Thurman Munson (Bill Dawes) and wild, cowboy-dressed manager Billy Martin (Keith Nobbs).
This leads to a strange and surreal dream sequence uniting Mickey Mantle (Dawes), Elston Howard (Battiste), Babe Ruth (C.J. Wilson), Lou Gehrig (John Wernke), Joe DiMaggio (Chris Henry Coffey) and Derek Jeter (Christopher Jackson). The play finishes with a final moment at the old stadium in 2008.
The cast is virtually the same as Off-Broadway except for Scolari, who brings a depth and degree of insecurity to Yogi that seems out of place compared to the broad performances offered by the other guys. Tracy Shayne, Scolari’s wife, plays Yogi’s supportive wife Carmen.
Watching actors portray legendary Yankees with distinctive personalities will no doubt be a guilty pleasure for many fans. But all things considered, they deserve something better than this unapologetically unchallenging and uninteresting history pageant.
And it turns out the fans agreed. On Feb. 20, after two weeks of playing to extremely thin audiences, it was confirmed that the show will close in early March. Here’s hoping this marks the end of Simonson’s lackluster series. Let’s revive Damn Yankees and Good News instead.