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, 154 Christopher Street (www.wingstheatre.com)

Equity Showcase (through December 22, 2007)

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 New York nightspots, keeping company with politicians, entertainers and mobsters alike. He was also an enigma, a man behind a stern shell few could penetrate, with two failed marriages (which he rarely discussed), was long estranged from his only son, and spent most of his life alone and unhappy. Additionally, he was apparently a shrewd businessman and his tightness with a buck may have alienated more than a few people in his life.


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 Monroe, which hurts the overall thrust of the story. This is especially the case when Vettel is offstage for close to a third of act two with an inordinate (and totally unnecessary) amount of time is devoted to Monroe's relationship with her various co-stars in her films. Brief scenes with Vettel and Brumley (as Monroe) work well, showing the love and friendship they had for each other (as well as their quite different personalities and needs). Any other information could have been covered by simply adding a few lines here and there. Additionally, Mitchell includes a whole sequence about Marilyn's relationship with John and Robert Kennedy and shows how they supposedly hand a hand in her death. This material is simply a recycling of tabloid headlines and conspiracy theories (as well as being badly presented) and has no reason to be in the show. That Mitchell is enamored by Monroe is also evident in that once her death occurs (in 1962), the action quickly jumps to 1969 and then to the San Francisco Earthquake of 1989 (with a few other brief scenes as well) as the play races to back to the hospital bed where all the stands of DiMaggio's life come together - and so that he can be with Marilyn once again.


The show would also have been served somewhat better by beginning at the beginning. Specially, DiMaggio's youth in San Francisco and his relationship with his father, a fisherman who had little time for Joe and baseball when his son was growing up. It would have also been more interesting if the voice in Joe's head had been represented by his father, rather than simply a "Man In The Shadows." Plus, a look at Joe's interaction with the rest of his family, especially his brothers Dominic and Vincent, who also played professional baseball, would have been nice.


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 Monroe appeared in with Clark Gable and Eli Wallach, and which was written by her third husband Arthur Miller, was a movie (a.k.a. "film" or "motion picture") and not a play.


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.


Box Score:


Writing: 1

Music/Lyrics: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Sets: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2007 by Judd Hollander


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