Long before George Steinbrenner took over the New York Yankees and started paying hefty salaries for the stars of the game, the Yankee Dynasty had been established. The players like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra formed that dynasty. Bronx Bombers, the new play on Broadway by Eric Simonson., at the Circle in the Square Theater, pays homage to what made and still makes the Yankees the most successful team in baseball.
First of all, you do not have to be a Yankee fan to enjoy Bronx Bombers, but it does help. It is a quality story which combines the true events of 1977 with a fantasy dream. The first act relives the aftermath of the highly publicized and nationally televised all-out brawl between Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson. Yogi Berra, played with amazing skill, by Peter Scolari, organizes a meeting with Martin, Jackson and Thurman Munson. The meeting does not go as Berra planned. The arguments ensue, the egos fly and it leaves Berra with the uneasy feeling that he might be replacing his friend (Martin) as manager, leaving him confused and emotional. Scolari’s vulnerability as Berra was perfect. Bill Dawes portrayed the late Thurman Munson with the heart he is remembered for. Francois Battiste was so good as Reggie Jackson, that I remembered why I despised him but revered him at the same time.
The second act opens up as Yogi and his wife Carmen host a dinner party attended by the Yankee legends. This, of course, is Yogi’s dream. Tracy Shayne plays Carmen Berra, Shayne, the real life wife of Scolari, is beautifully elegant and the perfect hostess for this fantasy. As the legends arrive, Berra is struggling with the fact that he might be replacing Martin as the manager. He is guilty and excited at the same time. One by one, the legends appear. Yogi’s dilemma is now secondary to the conversations among the men. Each one recalls a beef he had with the guy who came before or after him and in the end, the lesson about the team and its dynasty overrules Yogi’s personal issues. After all, it is what the Yankees are made of.
Bill Dawes and Francois Baptiste do double duty as (respectively) Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard, the first African American player on the team. Chris Henry Coffey’s portrayal of DiMaggio was classic – playing him with the comfort of Mr. Coffee, but the swagger and attitude DeMaggio was known for. C.J. Wilson (Babe Ruth) and John Wernke (Lou Gehrig) were cast perfectly. What would a Yankee legend dinner party be without Derek Jeter, played by Christopher Jackson, as the proud but humble guy he is.
Some people say that you need to know some of Yankee history or you must be a real Yankee fan to understand and love Bronx Bombers. Others say they hated the whole concept – mostly cranky critics – and then there was me..and my party of four..who loved it from start to finish, recommending it to everyone. It is not an Arthur Miller drama, or a play which delves into the inner demons of its characters. The show allows us to appreciate Yogi Berra and the Dynasty that is the Yankees.