ATLANTA: What makes the great sports narratives memorable aren’t just the game-winning points or the knockout blows—it’s the backstories, the aspirations and dramas behind the big plays. As Ron Shelton, screenwriter and director of the 1988 baseball film Bull Durham—a great sports story if ever there was one—says, “Sports is about what’s going on in the heads and hearts of the competitors, about what they’re dealing with off the field at the same time they’re performing on it.”
This season, Shelton is hoping his iconic story can be a contender in another league: musical theatre. Bull Durham, the musical, opens on Sept. 3 at the Alliance Theatre, where it will run through Oct. 5, boasting a Broadway cast including Melissa Errico (Amour) and Will Swenson (Les Misérables, Hair), as well as Broadway aspirations (no theatre or dates have been secured).
Like other baseball-themed shows, including Damn Yankees and Take Me Out, Bull Durham is as much about action on the diamond as about homeruns of another, more intimate sort; it seems that the baseball show, like the baseball metaphor, is reliably about sex and love.
As the musical’s director, Kip Fagan, notes, “Baseball is the setting for the show, not its subject. We’re dealing with a love triangle and a coming-of-age, or coming-of-a-certain-age story.” The points of that triangle, for those who haven’t seen the film in a while, include Crash Davis, the field veteran; Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, a fast-rising pitcher whose raw energy makes up for his naïveté; and Annie Savoy, a sexy dugout devotee known for seducing ballplayers.
Composer and lyricist Susan Werner, making her musical-theatre debut, tapped into the show’s sultry Southern energy in three ways, she says: “Drinking good bourbon, reading Tennessee Williams and writing with my Fender Telecaster.” Werner wants her music to convey the palpable physicality of these characters, particularly Annie. She may not be a ballplayer, but she’s “a physical creature, someone very comfortable in her body.” Sounds like Werner knows the score.