BWW Special Feature: Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance, Gotta Pitch?
How come we're all still surprised when a pro athlete admits he loves Broadway musicals? Remember when New York Jets Quarterback Mark Sanchez professed his love of the Great White Way three years ago, he became the talk of the town. People were so charmed by the revelation that Sanchez was asked to be a presenter at the 2010 Tony-awards. But with his gridiron success quickly fading away, there's a new poster boy for the Millionaire-Macho-Athlete-who-loves-Musical-Theatre-club ready to take his place. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet your new leading man, professional baseball player Jeremy Guthrie.
It should come as no surprise that there's been a love affair between Baseball and Broadway that has spanned generations. In the 1950s, Lola got what she wants in the classic musical DAMN YANKEES. In the 60s, YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN brought the world the hilarious song "T.E.A.M." Good grief, indeed. In the 80s Hal Prince directed the musical review "DIAMONDS, while in the 90s RAGTIME featured an hilarious 2nd-act number called "What A Game". And who could forget TAKE ME OUT, the full-throttle (and full-frontal) 2003 Tony-award winning play by Richard Greenberg?
Enter Guthrie, stage right. The veteran starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals knows a thing or two about hits - both the Baseball and the Broadway varieties. To find out how he got hooked on Musical Theatre, I chatted with him recently on the AstroTurf of the Rogers Centre after his Royals lost a close game against the Blue Jays. In the surprising and illuminating discussion, I discovered there are a lot of similarities between the two professions.
There's the obvious element of teamwork in each, and of course, a lot of travel. And like every Broadway performer, Guthrie has trained for years to perfect his craft - but instead of working on hitting that High C, he learned to pair his 95 mph fastball with a nasty slider and a slow curve. And like the Musical Theatre stars he adores, Jeremy pulls on his costume - er, uniform - and does his pressure-filled job under the spotlight, in front of a large crowd, who watch his every move.
Does it feel like he's performing out there, and feeding off the energy of the crowd? "Oh yeah, for sure!" he admits, with an obvious excitement in his voice. "In Kansas City we've had some of the bigger crowds that I've ever pitched in front of. A couple times I've had the chance to go out in the 9th inning to complete a game and there's been a huge energy where they cheer and scream. There's a lot to be said for the positive energy that fans can bring to the game."
Guthrie, a cheerful Oregon native who makes his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, says he got hooked on Musical Theatre after a visit to the Toronto production of JERSEY BOYS- a little show I may have had something to do with - back in March, 2009. "I saw it the first time during the World Baseball Classic in March of '09. JERSEY BOYS was the first musical that I just got into and loved, andit made me want to go to other ones. Before that I had only been to one, in New York - MAN OF LA MANCHA - just out of the blue."
Guthrie, who is also a huge Pop music fan, hints that the onstage talent and the unmatchable feeling of being in the audience inspires and excites him. "When I went to JERSEY BOYS, I was trying to get everyone else up and going, because I know how much that translates to the performance - it makes the actual performance that much better."
Guthrie, who would often hang out afterwards to discuss the show with the cast, saw the Canadian production of JERSEY BOYS four times, each time bringing colleagues or friends with him. He admits though, that it is difficult to find teammates willing to tag along. Among the stereotypically macho 'guy-guys' that make up Baseball's rosters, Guthrie claims that "probably only two to three per-cent are Broadway fans, although there are like 30-to-40% that are willing to go. When I was playing for Baltimore, I came with BrIan Roberts, Kevin Millar, a couple of other guys. It's all about finding guys on the team who will appreciate it. Millar and I appreciate anyone that does something really well, performance-wise. I don't think he's a Broadway connoisseur, but he loves the music, he loves the performances, he walks away impressed with the talent."
Since becoming hooked, Jeremy and his wife Jenny have seen shows across the USA and even in London's West End, and isn't shy to offer up his critiques. "I saw ONCE - my wife loved it and was enthralled by it, but I didn't quite get it. Ha ha! ROCK OF AGES is fun. I think it's obviously on a different level that these other shows, but it's fun, it keeps you engaged. You know, I saw BRING IT ON - uh, that was fun. We saw LES MIZ in London, when we went there in November. That was much better than PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I was expecting it to be like PHANTOM, but it was much better so I was pleasantly surprised. Yeah, LES MIZ was a nice treat, I enjoyed that. But JERSEY BOYS is definitely my all-time favorite show."
Like theatre actors who often leave home for work, Guthrie knows how hard it is to be working on the road, away from your family. When asked how he copes with the distance, the proud father of three children, aged three, six and nine lowers his voice for a moment. "It's feast or famine. When I'm home, I can take advantage especially in the summer of being with the kids all day till about 3pm, whereas most parents have to run to work much earlier. So when I'm home I get a lot of time with them, and when I'm gone, I obviously get no time. So, we have learned to adapt to it. It's been our way of life since my wife and I started dating back in College. We keep the communication up the best we can. It's just something that we're used to."
Guthrie, who at 34 is nearing the twilight of his career, hopes there's another five years in his powerful right arm before retiring from Baseball. "Yeah, my kids are getting to the ages where, you know, they'd probably rather see Daddy at home than see Daddy on TV. So whenever the time comes, I'll lean a lot on them to determine when the time is right. In the meantime, it's a lot of Skyping. But they're alright -they're quite active - we've got them in baseball, swimming - we've even got them into singing and dancing! They're not really good at it, yet, but... they're into it!"
When not at the ballpark or seeing a Broadway show, Guthrie also enjoys attending Pop Music concerts - in fact, a mere 90 minutes after our interview, he was heading to see Avril Lavigne and Robin Thicke headline a show at Molson Amphitheatre. "My last two concerts were Bieber and Bieber. And the one before that was also Bieber. The last three were Bieber!" he laughed. When I pointed out that all of the artists he mentioned were Canadian, Guthrie revealed that his "favorite actor is Michael J Fox", his "favorite country artist is Shania Twain", and even (somewhat shockingly) revealed one of his "favorite albums of all-time was Celine Dion's 1991 album 'Colour My Love'". However, the love of Canadian artists stopped there, as his list of favorite pop acts feature Boy Bands like One Direction, Backstreet Boys and N'Sync, as well as Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga.
So, do his teammates give him flack for his choice in music and Broadway shows? "Oh, all the time! All the time! But I believe in what I believe! I stand by it. I don't back down! I've always been my own person, but it's all good. I can take it!"
And if this Stanford grad's pitching career came to an end tomorrow? "The more I learn about myself, the more I discover I have a lot of interests, but I think I'd probably be working for Nike in some capacity. I'd love to be in shoe design. I also enjoy Advertising. I enjoy people, so getting out and understanding what motivates people, or what attracts people is something I'd be interested in learning more about, and helping a business run off of those things, so... That's probably the most likely place I'd be."
But after a brief pause, perhaps the real truth comes to the surface. "I'd love to be onstage, you know, singing with a Boy Band, but ... I don't think that's in the cards for me. I'll leave that for the people with the real talent."Photo credit: Christine Madden