* Because you can keep the Playbill on your bookshelf

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* Because you can keep the Playbill on your bookshelf

If you happen to be in Cooperstown this weekend:

National Pastime, a new musical comedy about a fictitious, unbeatable baseball team, will be presented during a special performance on Saturday, May 1, at 7 p.m. in the Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theater.

The play — written by Tony Sportiello, with words and music by Al Tapper — tells the story of WZBQ, a small-town radio station in circa 1933 Iowa on the verge of bankruptcy. To spark ratings, the station re-invents a long-defunct local baseball team and begins to broadcast phony games. Naturally there’s a good deal of confusion as the staff — with no real knowledge of the game — struggles with the subterfuge. Hilarity ensues.

I spoke briefly with Pierre Weidemann, National Pastime’s executive producer, who was looking forward to the trip “home”; he has family in Cooperstown.

Weidemann described the setting “as a little bit like The Andy Griffith Show; a very small town with bumbling characters, yet there’s a voice of reason.”

“It’s nice that people know [the play] is out there. Baseball fans will really get a kick out of the show and it goes back to a time period that doesn’t exist any more, a way of life that doesn’t exist any more.”

The play, originally written about eight years back as a straight comedy, recently morphed into a musical. It “showcased” last fall in New York City “just to see if it was working,” said Weidemann. “We loved the play and we know you’re attracting a much broader audience with a musical than you do with a straight comedy; tourists love musicals.

“If you go on Broadway, you want to go in probably with a big show,” he said. The current budget runs into the millions of dollars. “You really want to give yourself the best shot, and that’s by doing a musical.” Both Sportiello and Tapper “are huge baseball fans,” said Weidemann, which gives the project an extra air of authenticity.

But don’t get too excited, Cooperstown visitors. Simple logistics dictate you won’t be getting the Broadway version. This will, of necessity, be a scaled-down treatment, with actors and singers basically running through their lines and songs.

“What’s great about this play is that it brings two fan populations together that normally do not come together: theater fans and baseball fans. So it’s kind of a neat offering,” Weidemann said.

In preparation for the Broadway run that he hopes will come in the fall  of 2011, National Pastime will be looking to do regional performances. Kind of like getting seasoning in the minors before hitting the big leagues. “You get the reviews, the previews, you  work out any bugs. That’s where we’re at right now.”

Tickets to the Cooperstown performance are free but must be reserved. Members of the HoF may reserve their tickets by calling 607-547-0397. Any remaining tickets will be available to the general public beginning Monday, April 26. (Oops, sorry, my bad for being tardy.)

For more information on the play, visit the official website or the Facebook page (where you can sample some of the show’s tunes).


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