Don’t be fooled, it’s officially April. Which marks the return of baseball. For the first time in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs will start the baseball season as World Series Champions.
It’s also the final month for Tony Award eligible shows to open on Broadway. It’s a fast paced month, full of pageantry and magic. Eternal hope and optimism.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the return of our national pastime and the month-long excitement welcoming Broadway’s newest crop of shows with a slight tweak to this blog. Here, I’ll take fans around the bases of our national pastime and, by way of insightful and direct comparisons, attempt to weave together two important fabrics of American culture: Broadway and Baseball.
Right Down Broadway.
Those two words give me goose bumps. Something’s about to happen. Something glorious, something exciting. The launching pad to wonderment.
Professional baseball players yearn for Opening Night. For minor leaguers, it’s the Act I reveal to The Show, the ultimate payoff for lifetime of uncomfortable bus rides and long-lived dreams of becoming a major leaguer. Don’t be fooled, experienced ballplayers also thoroughly anticipate start of a new season. Strengthen by fresh legs and youthful spirit, it’s the chance to start anew, chase for the championship, or return to triumphed glory. Fans may extoll an even higher emotional reaction to Opening Night. The return of their favorite players along with new heroes gets kids and adults giddy with excitement. The full sensory overload of crackin’ bats, fresh cut grass, grilled hot dogs, patriotic bunting, and sun drenched stadiums reminds us this is indeed, heaven.
For the hardworking actors, crew, and staff of Broadway, Opening Night is the ultimate destination. The checkered flag to a sleep-deprived rehearsal process or the culmination of wearisome creative development. Fulfilled dreams illuminated by the brightest spotlight or chaser marquee. Their name in lights, literally.
Whether it’s Broadway or Baseball, Opening Night is a magical moment for all who bear witness. Pageantry at its grandest. For both institutions, it’s the magical moment where, for both performers and audience alike, a curtain rises on hope. To this admitted St. Louis Cardinals fan, nothing symbolizes Opening Night of the baseball season like the Clydesdales.
Every home opener, these beautiful animals downbeat the upcoming season with parade around the field and gallop into our hearts. For Cardinals fans like me, “Here Comes the King” is no longer a product placement jingle; it’s the overture to an optimistic summer.
Next, the boys of summer get their opening night bow, pre-game style. Sitting atop convertibles, they are introduced one-at-a-time, soaking in the fresh April sunlight and the devotion of their public trust. Finally, the Cardinals introduce their Hall-of-Famers, decked out in the most glorious sport coat you’ve ever seen. The pre-game extravaganza has it all: a cap tip to the past, a reveal of the present, and a glimpse towards the future.
The Cardinals aren’t alone in the pageantry. From the Yankees to the Dodgers the country is filled with celebrations igniting passion, love, and devotion to their betrothed teams. In some cases, Opening Night has become so popular cities campaign for a national holiday on Opening Day. For others, it’s a communal hooky day.
No other entity comes close to matching the excitement and enthrallment of MLB Opening Day. Except Broadway. Sorry, NFL. Sorry, College Football. Out of the cold dark winter comes the fresh exuberance of MLB. For one day, when all teams are equal and hope is balanced, MLB fans are filled with an anticipation that at this moment, when the gates opens, their heroes arrive, and the sun shines, their lives may ultimately change.
Broadway delivers similar, if not superior, fulfillment. Whether you’re the hard working crew member, the exhausted performer, or the unsung company manager, Opening Night is the definitive bow. You’ve arrived, you’re here, and the great white way is brighter than ever.
Incrementally throughout the year and near nightly throughout the month of April, incredibly festive Opening Nights are the staple of Times Square. Black-tie affairs still exist, complete with celeb-filled after-parties where the bubblies are flowing. In many cases, Opening Night performances remain an audience mix of invitees (friends, family, agents, industry folk) and paid patrons.
Head to the stage door prior to the show and you’ll see an endless cycle of florist deliveries. Actors, crew, musicians, and crew giddy with the excitement and nervous anticipation of presenting their new show to family, friends, and eventually, the world. Audience members experience similar sensory overload to baseball with the sounds of an orchestra warming up, house lights ready to dim, curtains ready to lift, and a crowd waiting to burst. Gotta be honest, it does have this feel.
Arrive early to a Broadway show and memorize the actor names posted in the lobby, similar to young baseball fan knowing the Opening Day lineup by heart. “Get your program herrrre” just like at the game with a commemorative Opening Night Playbill. Baseball’s opening day may have the Clydesdales and flyovers, but Broadway has an extremely special pre-show ceremony, the Gypsy Rose presentation. Hopefully one day, this presentation can be made available to the public.
Long before critics started attending preview performances, Broadway thrived on the unexpectedness of Opening Night. Critics were seated amongst the black-tied audience, and scurried pass them to file their review by deadline. While those notices still get published the day after Opening Night, critics now file their reviews 2–3 days prior and embargoed until Opening Night. Sure, industry chatter and online blogging balances the clandestine teeter-totter to some degree, but enough anticipation remains. Yes, persistent press agents and producers still escape into the kitchen of the after-party to read the late-night release but instead of first edition clippings straight from the newsies truck, stakeholders huddle around inboxes and consistently refreshed mobile websites to read the notices in full text. So in that sense, the Opening Night’s excitement (and anxiousness!) still exists. More importantly, the pageantry of Opening Night endures.
Without question, Openings fill us with joy. Everything is coming up roses. Opening Day in baseball embodies the pursuit of eternal hope. Broadway openings flood us in footlights of optimism.
Something that should never stop once the pageantry ends.
Rounding the bases with a couple other Broadway related tidbits:
- While a blog about Broadway celebrations was the ultimate theme, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one Opening Night that tragically changed the trajectory of Broadway.
- For those keeping score at home, two new Broadway musicals this season (Dear Evan Hansen, A Bronx Tale) feature father & son breaking-in-the-ball glove-scenes. Be warned: it gets VERY dusty around your eyes during those scenes.
- Dock Ellis & Willie Stargell, of the famed 1970s Pittsburgh Pirates teams, made their post-humorous Broadway debuts this season.
- Our friends at Playbill.com did this terrific summary last summary listing their favorite baseball themed musical numbers.
- Let’s give it up for my new favorite baseball player:
- St. Louis, rejoice. 2018 will bring a double-dose of pageantry to Baseball and Broadway. Hamilton comes to the Fabulous Fox Theatre starting April 3, 2018, which will coincide with the season (and potential) home opener of the Cardinals. Double pageantry!
- Finally, what Broadway revival featured prominent members of the St. Louis Cardinals in consultant roles? Tweet me your guesses.