Obviously The Winner's authors, Inez Basso Glick and Annmarie Fabricatore (book) and Stanley Glick (music and lyrics), still care very deeply about that black day in 1957 when Walter O'Malley moved the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. Their musical has a hymn to Brooklyn, a tribute to Dodger fans, and a mock duel between Yankee and Dodger fans that lists the virtues of various players as a debating team would argue the merits of Schopenhauer vs. Wittgenstein. In other words, they're preaching to the converted. And that's a shame, because there's the germ of a small but heartfelt musical in The Winner, but it keeps getting overshadowed by baseball fanaticism.
Not that there's anything wrong with baseball, Brooklyn, or barbers -- much of the action takes place in the barber shop of Domenick Morelli (Michael Ricciardone), husband, father, and Dodger fan (not always in that order). But as Damn Yankees isn't really about baseball, The Winner would have done better to pay more attention to the generational and cultural conflict issues it raises, and less to the rather simplistic glow of how-wonderful-it-all-was-way-back-when.
Sure Domenick is angry that his daughter Anna Maria (Marnie Baumer) wants to leave Brooklyn behind, but his wife, Carmela (Rosemarie Wright), feels caught between them. Her song defending the neighborhood counterpointed with Anna Maria's longing to find what's beyond the Brooklyn Bridge, and showed the beginnings of character/generational conflict. In general, the women tended more toward being characters, while the men seemed to be attitudes that fit into The Winner's view of the world.
So when Domenick wins the lottery (isn't there a whole musical in that all by itself?), his plan is to use the money to make sure the Dodgers stay in Brooklyn. (Well, there's not much suspense in how that scheme is going to pan out.) But when Anna tries talking her father into moving to Long Island (she's now working in Mineola and has met a non-Brooklynite on the LIRR), his accusation that she is trying to assimilate seems meant to evoke racial and religious conflicts, but merely feels rote. And when Angelo (Rob Barunias), a neighborhood guy who likes Anna, sings about not going to college and not learning "attitude," it's not clear whether he sees that his defensiveness is just as offensive. And while the play eventually splits the difference, Brooklyn still wins. At least in the glow of this show's hindsight it does.
But the older generation does have its day -- in the person of Nana (Carolyn Seiff), Domenick's mother, the wise old woman who talks to Anna and her friend Theresa (Erin Carter) about boys, and who figuratively slaps Domenick upside his head with an impassioned song where she reminds him about what her life was like when she came over from Italy ("I did the tarantell' in the shadow of the El/It was good enough for me but not for you"). Seiff's fire and conviction were followed by a sweet, old-fashioned ballad sung by Wright, in which Carmela tells her daughter to follow her heart.
So Domenick has spent all his winnings on his impossible dream, but he and his family are still winners, he feels, because they tried for what they wanted. Possibly, but although The Winner has some high spots, it could use some retooling and sharpening. As directed by Ron Nakahara Encores style, with minimal blocking and text in hand, The Winner sings the virtues of the old-fashioned (and there's nothing wrong with that), but it also would have been old-fashioned in 1957.
Also with Jeremy Ellison-Gladstone, Philip James Sulsona, Jerry Rockwood, Karl Schroeder, and Ivan Mann.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler