Inside Cal Rep Theatre, Los Angeles Dodger announcer Vin Scully's lilting voice introduces "The Boys of Summer"--catcher Roy Campanella, pitcher Carl Erskine, right fielder Carl Furillo, relief pitcher Clem Labine, second baseman Jackie Robinson. It's opening day, 1951, and we're in Ebbets Field, Brooklyn!
Alas, after the first musical pitch we know that baseball is the least important game in California Repertory Company's world premiere. Sportswriter Roger Kahn's classic memoir about the Brooklyn Dodgers is packed with fertile material, but Howard Burman's musical adaptation shifts the focus off the field and into the locker room. There he betrays a woeful misunderstanding of the players and the game. This may be caused by Burman changing the book's focus on the 1952 and 1953 World Series losing teams. Instead, he sets the musical during the 1951 season that ended with Bobby Thompson's home run for the Giants.
Since Kahn didn't cover that season, Burman must do his own research. He fails to effectively dramatize the 1951 pennant race.
Nor do Burman's lyrics evoke a feeling for the game. "They were the boys of summer," sings tenor Jonathan Mack as narrator Kahn, "and they played the game to their own drummer. . . ." The show's melodies are borrowed from Mozart, Schumann, Stephen Foster and W. C. Handy, among others. Such lack of musical originality increases the feeling that we've heard it all somewhere else before.
But the tireless ensemble scores with athletic grace. Especially fine is Mack, whose delivery of the sportswriter's chiseled prose soars with a home-run hitter's power. George Anthony Bell is memorable as Campanella, the upbeat catcher whose contagious clowning transformed sullen locker rooms into funhouses. Charles Douglass is an impressive Robinson, dignified despite an inner rage at 1950s major league baseball, "a temple of white supremacy."
The second act transfers the players to 1972 Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. On Old Timer's Day, the wheelchair-bound Campanella and his graying teammates reminisce about "lost reflexes." The boys could also curse this "lost chance."
"The Boys of Summer" might as well be titled "The Boys From Syracuse"--we're on the same musical comedy field. But this isn't in the same stadium as Rodgers and Hart--we're definitely in the minor leagues.
* "The Boys of Summer," Cal Rep Theatre, California State University campus (corner of 7th Street and W. Campus Drive), Long Beach. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Saturday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 20. $15. (310) 985-5526. Running time: 2 hours.
'Painted Eggs' an Ambitious Outing
Director-writer Robin Russin's "Painted Eggs" at the Harman Avenue Theater is an ambitious, heart-felt examination of the Ukrainian immigrant subculture. The title refers to the centuries-old tradition of painting eggs with symbolic designs. The message is that second-generation Americans hoping to ignore their roots--such as playboy Marko (Michael George Benko)--will succumb to trivial pursuits. Only by embracing a culture's past, here symbolized by mail-order bride Kateryna (Christina Ladysh), can such relative newcomers to America find their true nature.
These anti-materialism messages are delivered by a 12-character, gifted cast in cinematic scenes that would be better served by film. Russin co-wrote the script "On Deadly Ground" for Steven Seagal, and his imagination definitely belongs on the screen. His stage direction is plodding and indulgent.
But when Russin explores character and time in a theatrical style, especially with an aged grandmother's memories of Nazi atrocities (delivered with harrowing intensity by Harriet Rakell), "Painted Eggs" is hypnotic.
* "Painted Eggs," Harman Avenue Theater, 522 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 20. $12. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
'Manson'--It's Psychedelic, Man
A musical comedy about the sex-crazed killer of Sharon Tate? Such a concept might silence a studio's story meeting, but "the light side of Chuck Manson" becomes perfect territory for the outrageous Theatre-A-Go-Go company. At the Coast Playhouse on Saturday nights, these young entertainers offer groovy flashbacks to the 1960s in "Manson: The Musical."
We revisit Manson's cult family on its ranch, watch the Beatles brilliantly elude a journalist's questions about "helter skelter," see the Beach Boys stumble over queries about Dennis Wilson's sponsorship of Manson, and giggle at the Monkees. Vincent Bugliosi is back, chasing fame, and so are Manson's girls Squeaky, Sadie, Katie and Lulu.