Swing and a miss
DiMaggio The Man Behind the Myth
Book, music and lyrics by Robert Mitchell
Directed and choreographed by Don Johanson
Wings Theatre Company,
Equity Showcase (through
Review by Judd Hollander
He was known as Joltin' Joe, Joe
D., and The Yankee Clipper. Beloved by fans, he came to epitomize grace on the
baseball diamond. Cutting a dashing figure, he was a regular at the top
A fascinating figure to be sure, but DiMaggio The Man Behind the Myth really doesn't penetrate this outward facade, presenting only much of what was known before. As a result, one leaves the show knowing little more about the subject than when one arrived.
The play begins in 1999 in a hospital intensive care unit where DiMaggio (Christopher Vettel) is breathing his last. Moments before death, his mind flashes back to 1941 when he was at the peak of his baseball career. As he relives his life, his constant companion is the mysterious Man In The Shadows (Michael Basile), who is later revealed to be a sort of parental voice in Joe's head; though that becomes pretty obvious almost immediately.
The MITS continually preaches to Joe the code of the Sicilians: to always watch your back, always be on your guard, always look out for number one and always, always get the best deal possible, no matter who you have to screw in the process. This, the musical points out, was the rule by which Joe lived his life. The action then moves forward showing Joe's rocky first marriage to Dorothy Arnold (Pamela Brumley), his time in the Armed Forces during World War II, his life after his baseball career ended in 1951, which included stints as a pitchman and the host of baseball post-game show and, of course, his relationship and marriage with Marilyn Monroe (also played by Brumley).
It should be noted however, that this musical is called DiMaggio The Man Behind
the Myth, not Joe and Marilyn or The Marilyn Diaries. Yet the show's
creator Robert Mitchell puts way too much focus on
The show would also have been served somewhat better by
beginning at the beginning. Specially, DiMaggio's youth in
There are also numerous continuity errors throughout the play.
Little things to be sure, but annoying when they start to add up. These include
baseball players appearing at DiMaggio's deathbed without their names being
mentioned, even through we're supposed to know who they are; and the play
switching scenes and time frames without indicating what year it has become.
And for the record, Mickey Mantle did not break his leg in the 1951 World
Series. Rather, he severely sprained his right knee. Also, the 1961 production
of The Misfits which
Vettel has a good singing voice, though his acting is rather stiff and wooden, as is much of the rest of the cast, none of who really stand out. (The scenes between Vettel and Brumley being a happy exception.) It is a question as to whether the decision to play DiMaggio as an enigma came from Mitchell, director Don Johanson or Vettel himself.
The score, while serviceable, gets repetitious pretty quickly. There are, according to the show program, 42 songs (or fragments of songs) during the course of the musical, at least 20 of which are reprises. ("Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" gets reprised 5 times; "Something Rare" (about Joe and Marilyn), 6 times, with another seven tunes each reprised at least once), the result being that the emotional impact of the songs becomes somewhat diluted.
Direction by Johanson is okay, if nothing special, and the entire cast tries hard but never really makes any connection with the audience. Sets (uncredited in the program), costumes (by Marietta Clark) and lighting (by Robert Weinstein) are okay. A valiant try, but this is one musical in desperate need of a substantial rewrite.
Also in the cast are John Moss, Alissa Alter, Peter Carrier, Andrew Claus, Joe Cummings, Anna Hanson, Robert Kalman, Stephanie Martinez, Matthew Naclerio and Stephen Nichols.
Copyright 2007 by Judd Hollander
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