“National Pastime” – Theater Works

This review aired on KBAQ March 17, 2014


Theater Works, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts
Peoria, AZ

Local theaters are presenting more new plays and musicals every season.  Theater Works, the ambitious West Valley troupe, is presenting a winning production of the new musical “National Pastime” that still needs lots of work before it will ever be successful.

Don’t be fooled by the title.  The new musical with book by Tony Sportiello and songs by Al Tapper is about baseball but it’s also about 1933 American music, styles, and radio, but claimed parallels to those screwball ‘30s movie comedies never happens clearly.  Set in small town Baker City, Iowa, a fictionalized baseball team is created to save the only local radio station.  Since the team can’t be seen, the creators claim it plays only in Europe.  A magazine reporter attempts to do a background story on the new team.

Predictable avoidance keeps the show and the team going but there are major problems with “National Pastime.”  The over two dozen songs add little to the show and rarely capture the period’s musical sound.  Most of the tunes add little clarification to the frail plot and many songs slow “National Pastime” to a dastardly crawl adding unnecessary squirmy time to an already draggy show.

Originally a play, the best way to fix “National Pastime” would be to eliminate the bland songs and focus on the silly plot so the show could become a zingy period comedy slam.  It’s not a good musical.

The show aside, Theater Works’ production is performed by stalwart talents.  Forceful Sarah Wolter plays Karen, one of the team creators, with pushy gusto.  She’s paired with Joseph Kremer’s funny Barry who’s only goal is to make the radio station viable again.  Scott Hyder’s Vinnie and Ian Christensen’s Joe are the baseball team’s stars who never hit a ball but act out team activities with fervor in the studio.  Tony Blosser and Michael Schwenke are aggressive local announcers who call the fake games cleverly to rally the locals.  Alanna Kalbfleisch is funny as the station and the team’s receptionist.

Director David Vining’s sharp staging squeezes malarkey out of the weak script by crafting several cute comic moments and Steve Hilderbrand leads the small orchestra through the blah score with zest.  “National Pastime” doesn’t provide the talented performers or stagers with enough truly funny material.

“National Pastime’s” wacky and silly ideas need to be stated quickly before audiences realize the slender inanities that are occurring and the music should be eliminated.  As it is now “National Pastime” won’t make it on Broadway where it aspires to play.  It runs to March 30.  For tickets, call the Theater Works box office at 623-815-7930 or order tickets online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: D