Bronx Bombers, Eric Simonson’s play about a crisis among the players of the New York Yankees, opened Feb. 6 at the Circle in the Square Theater. Simonson also directed the play which had a limited run Off-Broadway earlier this season in a production by Primary Stages. The author-director previously wrote about sports in two other Broadway plays—football in Lombardi and basketball in Magic/Bird.
The play begins in June 1977 with the team’s coach, the lovable, malaprop-spouting Yogi Berra attempting to heal a rift between manager Billy Martin and star batter Reggie Jackson after their dugout conflict threatens to rip the Yanks apart. The history of the franchise is told in loving detail as the plot progresses into a fantasy dinner hosted by Yogi and his wife. In attendance are Yankee greats, past and future including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter.
Married actors Peter Scolari (Newhart, Lucky Guy) and Tracy Shayne (Chicago) play Yogi Barra and his wife Carmen. The cast also includes Keith Nobbs and Bill Dawes (both of whom were in Lombardi), Obie winner Francois Battiste (The Good Negro), Chris Henry Coffey (Broadway debut), C.J. Wilson (The Big Knife), Christopher Jackson (Memphis), and John Wernke (The American Plan). Did Bronx Bombers score a home run with the critics? Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“Yankee lovers may not find this sudden lurch into fantasy particularly worrisome. They will enjoy watching these fabled greats impersonated by a skilled cast of actors, with Mr. Coffey’s showboating Mantle, teasing his teammate DiMaggio for his sleek suit and terse style, and Mr. Wilson’s Ruth, full of barroom boisterousness, hogging much of the spotlight. But the play doesn’t negotiate the move from the real world to the dream world very smoothly.”
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“After finishing in last place Off-Broadway, Bronx Bombers spent the off-season retooling for Broadway’s big league. All the rigorous exercise—along with some canny tweaks—over the past three months has paid off. The central tension—a perennial Yankee saga about team tradition versus personal stardom—is better illuminated. The formerly bipolar halves of the show—part drama, part dream sequence—now fit together better.”
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“What’s more amazing than dead players chatting over hors d’oeuvres is that a show about a team with such a backlog of personalities, controversies and scandals could be so dull. No George Steinbrenner, no Red Sox, no juicing—no drama. At this point, you have to wonder what’s next for Simonson. A play about hockey in which the Care Bear players hug?”
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees put money in the show, and it shows. The play played off-Broadway last year and has been tweaked since then, but not enough to make it more than Yankee advertising.”
Linda Winer, Newsday
“Scolari plays Yogi with obvious affection for a legend bent with age but unbowed in team loyalty, a man panicked at the sense of the team ever splitting apart. There is plenty of inside-baseball inside-stuff, explained with relative grace. And for those of us who don’t much care, designer David C. Woolard amuses us with the changing styles of the uniforms.”
Elysa Garder, USA Today
“Francois Battiste does deft double duty as Jackson, whom we see humble with age, and Elston Howard, the Yankees’ first African-American member. Changing times are noted with predictable obviousness and heavy-handedness. Informed of professional baseball’s declining popularity in the ’60s, C.J. Wilson’s droll Ruth turns serious, declaring that “kids need baseball,” the game being a ‘team sport’ and ‘America’s sport.’ On those points, at least, some Red Sox fans will agree.”
Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“These Olympian immortals don’t actually say or do much of dramatic note in a play that’s noticeably lacking in drama. But it’s interesting to get their perspectives on the vicissitudes of big league baseball over the years….But their collective presence is enough to reassure Yogi that they embody the spirit of the Yankees and that spirit will live on forever. And maybe that’s all it takes to make the fans happy.”
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“The third in a series of sports-themed Broadway productions that are as much promotional as dramatic—the Yankees and Major League Baseball are among the presenters—Bronx Bombers offers little for those who are already ardent fans of the venerable sports franchise.”
Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly
“Bronx Bombers’ Broadway premiere has one thing going for it: great timing. While New York Yankee fans count down the days to the start of spring training (pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in eight days) and opening day (just 60 days until the home opener against the Baltimore Orioles!), the Yankee faithful can spend two hours in midtown Manhattan reminiscing about the club’s storied history for about the price of a single-game field-level seat. Peanuts and Cracker Jack sold separately. But just about any CenterStage, Yankees on Deck, or Yankees Magazine show on New York’s local YES Network provides more insight and drama into the 27-time World Series champion team than Bronx Bombers—and for a lot less dough.”
Matt Windman, AM New York
“The tender-hearted, super- sappy New York Yankees tribute Bronx Bombers, which just transferred to Broadway’s Circle in the Square after a short Off-Broadway run, really ought to be playing in Cooperstown as a sort of side show for tourists visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame. It could be done with animatronics instead of actors, a la The Hall of Presidents at Disney World.”