- CHARITY BENEFIT
Written by: Paulanne Simmons
The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY is not normally an incubator of musicals, unless that musical is called National Pastime.
With a book by Tony Sportiello and music and lyrics by Al Tapper, National Pastime tells the story of WZBQ, a struggling radio station that in 1933, during the height of the Depression, creates a fictional baseball team to help boost its ratings. The team plays games throughout Europe, and its victories keep radio listeners galvanized. Everyone at the station is elated until, inevitably, things go wrong.
According to Sportiello, his inspiration came when a friend who takes photographs at Cooperstown told him there is a theater at the National Baseball Hall of Fame that would be perfect for a baseball-related show. National Pastime, when first produced at Cooperstown, was an hour-long comedy. Then Tapper, Sportiello’s friend and collaborator, saw the show.
“I thought it was the cutest story and very original,” says Tapper. “If there was ever an idea for a musical, it would be National Pastime.”
Sportiello adds that National Pastime is not only a “screwball comedy” like The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, but also a family show and a musical men as well as women will enjoy.
Certainly, the two men seem to have enjoyed their collaboration.
“As an art,” says Tapper, “musical theater is the last form of collaboration … where more is better. Other collaborators force you to do something different.”
Tapper remembers that when the show was produced at the Keegan Theater in Washington, DC, he thought it was set, until his choreographer and director showed him this was not so.
A history major in college, Tapper also relished all the research that was necessary for this period piece, especially for songs like “Get Hot,” which uses words and expressions from the early 1930s.
Sportiello has been a baseball fan ever since he began following the Baltimore Orioles as a child before he moved to Brooklyn, where he remained an Orioles fan, despite, one imagines, considerable pressure to switch allegiance. For Sportiello, National Pastime is both one more step in his career as a playwright (he also wrote a one-act, Contract Time, produced at the Baseball Hall of Fame as well) and an act of love.
Tapper’s musicals include David, Imperfect Chemistry (Minetta Lane Theater), From Where I Stand (Laurie Beechman Theatre), Sessions and An Evening at the Carlyle (The Algonquin Theater). For Tapper, Sportiello’s book offered a perfect opportunity to create a musical in the style of the great lyricists and composers he has always admired Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser.
National Pastime is making its New York debut at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on August 8, but Sportiello and Tapper hope they are Broadway bound.