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Baseball drama 'Bronx Bombers' goes to bat on Broadway

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Broadway's newest sports-based play, "Bronx Bombers," opened to mixed reviews on Friday, with some critics praising the casting of the New York Yankees drama and others wondering if it will hit any home runs beyond the hometown fans.

Written and directed by Eric Simonson, who also penned the football play "Lombardi" and the basketball drama "Magic Bird," "Bronx Bombers" focuses on difficult times during the 1977 baseball season when locker-room rivalries threatened to tear the team apart.

The play, which opened at the Circle in the Square theater on Thursday after some fine tuning following an off-Broadway run, also features a dream sequence with long-departed Yankee greats including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

"The formerly bipolar halves of the show - part drama, part dream sequence - now fit better together," said the New York Daily News newspaper.

But the New York Post called it "a shamelessly reverent love letter to the Yankees - or rather the myths the Yankees built around themselves."

The New York Times was more positive, describing the play as "an affectionate celebration of Yankee greatness." But while NBC News acknowledged the tuned-up Broadway version was better than before, it thought it was still dubiously crafted.

"'Bronx Bombers' is a jock drama that will appeal to any Yankee fanatic, but leave others restless in the bleachers," it said.

IMMORTAL YANKEE LEGENDS

Actor Peter Scolari, whose credits include the TV series "Girls" and "White Collar" heads the ensemble cast playing Yogi Berra, the team's lovable catcher and later manager famous for his malapropisms.

"I may be nostalgic, but I don't like to live in the past," is one so-called "Yogism."

Berra is the heart of the play, trying to make peace among the battling players and breaking bread at a dinner party in the dream sequence with the Yankee greats.

"Peter Scolari, who helped conceive 'Bombers,' affects a convincing-enough simulation of Berra's folksy quirks,' said the newspaper USA Today.

Scolari's real-life wife Tracy Shayne, of TV crime drama "Law & Order," plays Berra's wife Carmen, while Francois Battiste ("The Good Wife" and "Person of Interest") has dual roles as slugger Reggie Jackson and Elston Howard.

"There are colorful performances from the committed ensemble, many doing double duty," said NBC News.

"Battiste struts like a peacock through the first act as 'the immensity that is Reggie Jackson,' then tones things down later as Elston Howard, the first African-American to play for the team," it added.

Although the play is packed with cameos by immortal Yankees legends, including Ruth looking like a cuddly bear in a fur coat, the trade magazine Variety said it lacks drama and could be difficult to market on Broadway.

"With the exception of the baseball-crazy Japanese, can you sell the Broadway tourist audience on this rah-rah cheer for the home team?" it asked.

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Tom Brown)

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