Scoop: New STEINBRENNER! Play Reading Features Jay O. Sanders, Astrid Van Wieren, Zach Grenier & More

By: Oct. 03, 2017

On Friday, September 29th a reading took place of STEINBRENNER!, a new play based on Bill Madden's best-selling book "Steinbrenner - The Last Lion of Baseball".

Featured in the cast were Jay O. Sanders (George Steinbrenner), Astrid Van Wieren (Elaine Kaufman), Zach Grenier (Gabe Paul), Cotter Smith (Billy Martin), Jim Anderson (Thurman Munson and Voice of Buck Showalter), Frank Harts (Reggie Jackson), Frances Eve (Doris), Lawton Paseka (Voices), Mark Coffin (Voices) and Samantha Blinn (stage direction).

After script revisions, the show will hold its next workshop in early winter, followed by a showcase production at the Scranton Cultural Center in May.

The creative team includes Ira Berkow and Bill Madden as co-writers and Heidi Mueller Smith as director. The reading was produced by Brian Spector of Keaka Productions, LLC.

Spector tells us "After Ira Berkow and Bill Madden wrote the script, there were two table readings sponsored by Roundabout Theatre Company in 2013 and 2014. Ira and Bill asked me to take over the project in the fall of 2014. I hired a dramaturg, who assisted in further developing the script. In August 2015, I produced a staged reading at Guild Hall in East Hampton that was attended by over 200 people. In early 2017, I brought on Heidi Mueller Smith, who, with the writers, restructured and enhanced the script to the point that we all felt it was a much better and more compelling story and was ready for another reading."

Adapting a book for the stage poses unique challenges and opportunities and both authors shared their takes, with Bill Madden noting "It was extremely difficult because we are first and foremost newspaper guys and reporters whose instincts were to tell George's life story, with accuracy. As the process gradually evolved over the last five years, we came to realize that was impossible to do in an hour and 20 minutes. It had to be a one-act play and liberties had to be taken... Most of the dialogue is accurate as related to me by the people themselves for my book and didn't need to be exaggerated! With Heidi's brilliant direction, we came to understand the first rule of adapting from writers to playwrights: Condense!"

Ira Berkow further shared "Like all kinds of writing, it's always a challenge to decide what to leave out. That's the art of it, as I imagine it. Hemingway espoused the "iceberg theory: There is seven-eighths under water for every part that shows." What we hoped to include is what truly matters, but also what entertains. And there was no paucity of either regarding George Steinbrenner. It was sometimes painful to leave some stuff out, but pace and time dictate such. Writing for the stage, I found that one often had to be more succinct than writing for the printed page. That is, it's sometimes not necessary to have an actor say something when it is probably more effective for him or her to simply raise an eye brow, or shrug, or turn and walk away -- each gesture without saying a word. In print, you'd most likely include dialogue at such moments.The most satisfying element of seeing our work "alive" on stage rather than on the printed page is proof of the effectiveness in story-telling of the old dictum, "Show don't tell."

Lastly, director Heidi Mueller Smith tells us about how she's bringing a real-life character to life on the stage as the project develops "I find it interesting to reveal the less known, personal and maybe even hidden aspects of a character. Finally, I have learned that many of the audience (the fans) are looking to spend a little more time with the guy, and if we can provide that on stage, THAT is a real gift."

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