Entries in Jackie and Me (2)


Legacy of Jackie Robinson Hits Home at First Stage

Red, white and blue buntings hang from the balcony at the Todd Wehr Theater. The decorations proudly celebrate the First Stage Children’s Theater production of Jackie and Me, an all American story retelling how Jackie Robinson forever changed professional major league baseball by becoming the first African American on the field when he primarily played second base.

The First Stage production focuses on character and story instead of technical effects that splendidly affirms Robinson’s legacy. Only one wide screen is used to help project images of scenery and different places throughout the performance in a subtle way. Steven Dietz adapted Dan Gutzman’s tale about a young baseball fan, Joey Stoshach who travels back in time with the help of a Jackie Robinson Bond bread card.

Joey travels back to meet Jackie Robinson when he does a report for his school, and learns he and Jackie have tempers that need to be controlled before someone gets hurt. When Jackie is hired by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey to play in the majors against every odd that he will last, Jackie tells Joey, “Put your temper into playing the game. How are we going to fight? We put our fighting into the game.”

As Joey learns, Jackie fought unconscionable racism when he began to play, segregation the norm on and off the playing field, where even hotels refused to take him with the rest of the team. Front doors were closed while Robinson went through the back way.  Robinson counteracted this blatant racism with strong courage, perseverance and willpower---and his incredible athletic prowess. 

The production recalls Robinson’s amazing  Baseball statistics through the story, for one when he became Rookie of the Year in 1947, primarily told through Joey’s voice when he narrates his time travel journey while he grows in understanding to the racial prejudice at the time. When Joey goes back to 1947, he is seen as a young African American boy. One of the most poignant scenes in the play happens when Joey tries to drink from a “Whites Only” water fountain. A woman spits at him, and her male companion harasses Joey, and he unfortunately learns when hate can be seen in another human being’s eyes.

Chauncy Thomas recreates the Jackie Robinson persona with fierce and gentlemanly elegance, even when running bases in slow motion. And he’s a great match with Tiffany Yvonne Cox playing his wife Rae who supported him even though fears for their lives, death threats, accompany Robinson when he takes the field. On Saturday, the Dodgers Young Performers cast Seth Horne as a Joey with believability in a role that requires him to be on stage for the entire performance. Georgina Mckee underplays Joey’s mom with reserved emotion, trying to help Joey calm his own anger.

Even when the audience knows the outcome of how an exceptional Robinson was voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame and transformed the faces of the Major Leagues, experiencing this live on stage makes confronting Robinson’s horrific challenges more powerful. A great story for “boys’” of any age or the girls sitting in the last row of the theatre who played softball, equally excited about the Jackie and Me production.

Baseball, like life itself, is a day to day game worth playing. Sometimes one strikes out and at others, hits a home run where dreams do come true, as they did for Jackie because of his commitment and dedication. As baseball season returns to the stadiums around the country for another year, commit to seeing this beautifully conceived First Stage Jackie and Me portraying the legacy of an American hero, Jackie Robinson. Remember what is really important in life, other than double hits and grand slams, to preserve the brother/sisterhood of humanity, each individual's unique dignity. Then trust as Robinson ultimately expressed, in spite of what people said or did to him only because of his skin color, “I believe in the human race.”

First Stage Children's Theater presents Jackie and Me at the Todd Wehr Theatre in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through May 5. Season subscriptions are on sale for the 2013-2014 season "Discover, Imagine, Explore," or sign up for First Stage's Summer Theater Academy beginning June 17. For information or tickets, please call 414.273.3800 or click the First Stage link to the left                by Peggy Sue Dunigan



PREVIEW: First Stage Children’s Theater Believes in “Jackie’s Nine”

What exactly is "Jackie’s Nine?" Could this be one of  baseball star Jackie Robinson’s greatest nine inning games? First Stage Children’s Theater looks ahead to summer’s baseball season and the life of Hall of Fame player Jackie Robinson in their final selection at the Todd Wehr Theater Jackie and Me. The April 12 opening of the production’s run coincides with the first weeks of America’s 2013 baseball season and the film debut of 42, a biography named after Jackie Robinson’s iconic number stitched on his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. To finish this triple hit, April 15 was officially named Jackie Robinson day.

As the first Negro, or African American professional baseball player, Jackie embodied the personal character and athletic skills to become this groundbreaking figure who broke color barriers in professional sports. Robinson paved the way for others including Hank Aaron and Rickie Weeks. Perhaps more than his physical prowess, Robinson lived by what his daughter Sharon wrote about in her book “Jackie’s Nine:” citizenship. commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence and teamwork. 

First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank believes that in Jackie and Me the main character Joey Stoshack travels back in time with the help of a baseball card to learn about how Robinson faced the challenges in his life, breaking into major league baseball and white culture with incredible integrity. Joey encounters his own struggles as a white boy dealing with anger, a temper and family insecurity. Meeting Robinson in his own time frame challenges Joey to choose, to choose and live according to Jackie’s nine principles. However, when Jackie travels back into time, Joey appears as a young  black boy to every one who sees him instead of the while, Polish American he is. 

This gives Joey unique insight into Robinson’s life and professional sports on multiple levels, A story that Frank admits, “ shows the best and worst of American life, “ and carries the audience on the same journey, also one of “the immense possibilities in any one life and that dreams do come true.” Frank explains the play speaks to several big league character issues and says, “We all need to look inside and find inner strength to face challenges, now and in the future.” 

In the production Jackie and Me, Joey and Jackie eventually discover a way to make a difference in their respective lives. Frank adds, “While Jackie played a game, an American game, he became a powerful example, and a conduit for change.” Frank continues, “We look back so we can look forward, and see what needs to be done yet.” 

These principles speak to First Stage’s new 2013-2014 season recently announced with the theme “Discover.” In an effort to continually challenge audiences and actors while pushing theatrical boundaries, the company will feature Shrek, The Musical, a theater for young audiences adaptation from the Broadway production.  A reprise of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever followed by a tenth anniversary production of James DeVita’s A Midnight Cry will include selections by Sheri Williams Parnell in the third play from the company's Wisconsin series.  

Afterwards several world premieres appear, a theatrical treat fast becoming a hallmark of First Stage. One world premiere features Wisconsin’s own John Maclay, Lee Becker and James Valcq as composers and writers for the musical Anatole, based on the beloved children’s classic. Another premiere ends the season for mystery fans with the classic tales of Carolyn Keene’s female sleuth in Nancy Drew and the Biggest Case Ever, written by First Stage artistic staff Jeff Frank and John Maclay combined with a score by Milwaukee’s Willy Porter.

And in between, the First Step series features A Cat in the Hat, a production for ages 8 and up at Todd Wehr titled Crash, a zombie holiday production for teenagers, Maul of the Dead, and a collaboration with the Young Company in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. With this exciting line up, First Stage also embodies Jackie’s nine, a proverbial home run for the season that leads into live theatre performances transcending age classification and then transforming lives. 

Everyone needs adventures to discover, ones with heroes and First Stage addresses these concerns for all those over the age of three, boys and girls, no matter what their ethnicity. Jackie and Me is only the current production that will inspire athletes of either gender with these compelling experiences featuring John Brotherhood and Seth Horne, the young performers who play Joey. Chauncy Thomas, last seen in Don’t Tell Me i Can’t Fly, inhabits Jackie Robinson for a story that requires the young performers to be on stage almost the entire play, often narrating the story while Jackie mentors the young Joey.  

In his career, Jackie embraced baseball and brave nobility, a true sense of character with integrity to transform a country’s thinking on integrating professional sports. Frank reiterates First Stage strives to accomplish this with each production, in this current season and in 2013-2014, with theater as magical to compete with any sport. He concludes when he says, “The arts have the power to change people, so they think more deeply, so a person can change their perspective and ultimately their actions.” 

First Stage Children’s Theater presents Jackie and Me at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in sponsorship with the Brewer Community Foundation. April 12 through May 5. Sharon Robinson’s Book “Jackie’s Nine” will be on sale in the theater lobby. Help First Stage have a Grand Slam year and subscribe with season tickets for 2013-2014, which may be purchased at a discount through June 30. For tickets or information please call 414.273.7206 or click the First Stage link to the left.       by Peggy Sue Dunigan