Review Roundup: BRONX BOMBERS Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Bronx Bombers, a new American play by Eric Simonson, produced on Broadway by Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, and directed by Eric Simonson, officially opens tonight, February 6, 2014 at Circle in the Square Theatre.
Starring Peter Scolari as Yogi Berra, the cast also features Francois Battiste (Reggie Jackson), Chris Henry Coffey (Joe DiMaggio), Bill Dawes (Mickey Mantle), Christopher Jackson (Derek Jeter), Keith Nobbs (Billy Martin), Tracy Shayne (Carmen Berra), John Wernke (Lou Gehrig) and C.J. Wilson (Babe Ruth). The design team includes Beowulf Borritt (Sets), David C. Woolard (Costumes), Jason Lyons (Lights) and Lindsay Jones (Original Music & Sound).
Ruth. Berra. Mantle. DiMaggio. Gehrig. Jeter. The New York Yankees have never had a shortage of star players... or controversy. Bronx Bombers is a new American play from the team behind Broadway's Lombardi that follows beloved icon Yogi Berra and his wife Carmen through a century of the team's trials and triumphs, bringing generations of Yankee greats together on one stage.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Strange though it may sound, this pinstriped pantheon sits down to dine together in a dream sequence from "Bronx Bombers," an affectionate celebration of Yankee greatness (with a smidgen of Yankee angst) written and directed by Eric Simonson...The drama inherent in clashing egos gives "Bronx Bombers" some natural juice in the early innings, but the suspense about whether Martin will be axed - and Berra will agree to replace him - more or less gets benched in the play's second act.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The first sign a major knuckleball is coming in the baseball play "Bronx Bombers" is when the smoke machines crank up. Until then, Eric Simonson's script is an unremarkable behind-the-scenes look at a moment in 1977 when the New York Yankees were in crisis...Simonson...also directs "Bronx Bombers," and he does so with such reverence to the baseball franchise that it veers into fairy tale. 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.
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 not already ardent fans of the venerable sports franchise...The effective cast of last year's original off-Broadway production is largely intact, with the exception of Scolari, who's touching and funny as the ever-awkward Berra. And the moving final scene, set in the Yankees locker room on the day of the final game at the original stadium, will surely strike a chord with nostalgists. But Bronx Bombers is ultimately too lightweight to score a theatrical home run.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: So, what's next - golf? Scribe-for-hire Eric Simonson and producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo have this factory assembly-line thing going with pro sports organizations: First came "Lombardi," backed by the National Football League, then "Magic / Bird" with the National Basketball Association, and now, "Bronx Bombers," which has the blessing of the Yankees and Major League Baseball. Marketing this one might be more of a challenge, though. With the exception of the baseball-crazy Japanese, can you sell the Broadway tourist audience on this rah-rah cheer for the home team?
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Early in the 20th century, a group of extraordinary men came together, devoted to providing lesser mortals constant examples of physical and spiritual excellence. In the years that followed, they endured all manner of tragedy and adversity to stick together, so that we, too, could survive as a nation. This is not a reference to some elite military unit or civil-service organization, but to the New York Yankees, the subject of Bronx Bombers (* * out of four stars), the new play/hagiography that opened Thursday at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Sharpened, but still dubiously crafted, "Bronx Bombers" is a jock drama that will appeal to any Yankees fanatic, but leave others restless in the bleachers...But most important, the script has been tightened, lending needed clarity to its simple message: The Yankees organization has churned with personal drama since before the days of intrusive media and free agency, but ultimately, the team will thrive and the fans will maintain their bond...There are colorful performances from the committed ensemble, many doing double duty..."Damn Yankees" this is not, but it may keep sports fans distracted until spring training.
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...Watching actors portray legendary Yankees with distinctive personalities will no doubt be a guilty pleasure for many fans. But all things considered, they deserve something better than this unchallenging and uninteresting history pageant.
David Cote, Time Out NY: If penning sports plays were a competition, Eric Simonson would be MVP. He's found drama in football coaching (Lombardi), basketball rivalry (Magic/Bird) and now, with Bronx Bombers, the national pastime. None of these qualify as great works, but for some theatergoers, they offer tantalizing glimpses into exotic subcultures...Bronx Bombers touches on high points of 20th-century Yankee history, although it hasn't been so much plotted as researched and pitched to guys who get a lump in the throat from seeing Lou Gehrig shake hands with Derek Jeter...Simonson, who directs his own script too laxly, touches on predictable tensions between individual excellence versus team spirit, but in terms of ideas or visual flair, there are no curves here.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: Over his three Broadway plays, Simonson's efforts become more diluted and the stories more far-fetched. Lombardi focused on one man; Magic/Bird took on two. Here, he's dealing with a whole franchise. (What's next - a hockey play that puts the entire NHL on ice?) Worse, the manufactured plot doesn't even begin to approach believability... In his defense, Simonson doesn't have a heck of a lot to work with. There's no footage or photos - no visual backstory that could fill in the blanks for viewers who aren't completely steeped in 90-plus years of Yankee history. MLB should be able to supply more than a few pinstriped uniforms with the interlocking NY logo. Not that a few video clips would turn Bronx Bombers into a hit. It's just a bomb - and not the kind that made Babe Ruth famous. D
Jesse Green, Vulture: Simonson's stabs at spiritual significance sink Bronx Bombers just as they did his previous outings. Had he elected to stick with a character-based "backstage" story, as he does in the first scene, he might have had a winner this time...It's not just that the story, having jettisoned whatever was interesting about it, is so undeserving of the emotional extremes that surrealism at its best can illustrate. It's also that Simonson, emerging from the dream, has nothing left to pitch. A lame wrap-up scene set in 2008, during the final game at the old Yankee Stadium, squeezes the nostalgia sponge well past the point where anything can be wrung from it.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Woody Allen did something like this in "Midnight in Paris" when he conjured up the likes of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali. From the evidence of Simonson's play and Allen's movie, painters and writers make a helluva lot better dinner guests than baseball players. The premise isn't bad, but the around-the-table chat in "Bombers" is...After the endless dream sequence, Simonson takes us to the last game in the old Yankee Stadium. It's like he's directing the Passion Play what with all the dry ice foaming and church bells ringing and beatific light streaming. It's not unusual for screenwriters to direct their own scripts, but they're working in collaboration with a cinematographer and an editor. Playwrights who direct their own plays don't have that buffer, and this production of "Bronx Bombers" is a textbook example of why they should stick to writing.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Devout Yankee fans may get misty at the sight of the beloved Iron Horse, bedeviled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, meeting today's Mr. Nice Guy Derek Jeter. But the scene is more sugary than the Cracker Jack served in the upper deck. And manipulative music seemingly recruited from "The Natural" seeks to tug heartstrings. When all is said and done, "Bronx Bombers" is too feel-good and fawning for its own good.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: The point seems to be that Yankee greatness bridges generations, and that petty rivalries should be snuffed out for the organization's greater good. 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?
Linda Winder, 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.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: First there was football, with the mediocre "Lombardi." Then came basketball, with the bad "Magic/Bird," and now baseball, with the worse "Bronx Bombers" (presented with "special producing partners" the Yankees and Major League Baseball). Wake me when they get to horseshoes.
Roma Torre, NY1: Eric Simonson's play is a disjointed work divided into four disparate scenes. The first scene, the only one that qualifies as drama, features a notorious episode in Yankee history. In 1977, manager Billy Martin and slugger Reggie Jackson had it out in a Fenway Park dugout, and it was all caught on camera. As the scene unfolds, Yogi Berra, then the coach, tries to diffuse tensions by inviting Martin and Jackson to a hotel room along with team captain Thurman Munson to hash it out.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus