In The Schoolyard
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
August 23, 2010
Let's all meet down in the schoolyard and play some basketball. The statement conjures up a host of fond childhood memories. In the Schoolyard is a musical comedy that explores the lives of a group of friends who reunite each year to play basketball at the elementary school where they grew up. The middle-aged men visit their stomping grounds and attempt to rekindle their youth.
The play has an interesting history. Paulanne Simmons wrote a newspaper feature a decade ago about a group of friends who meet once a year at their old school playground. A few years later she penned the play Basketball Lessons based on the article. She eventually turned that play into this musical.
While it's based loosely on a true story, there are countless real stories from which Simmons could have crafted this play. A close-knit group of friends with a deeply connected childhood; they played in the same schoolyard; they hung out at and disrupted the local grocery store (owned by the mother of one of the boys); they guzzled beers at the local Irish bar. All these years later, connections between the men have predictably frayed; childhood innocence has yielded to more adult matters: marriage, careers, and heath.
The iconic centerpiece, literally and figuratively, is the gritty basketball hoop in the schoolyard. The old weather-beaten backboard sports a white pristine net seemingly marrying the past and present.
Male midlife crises and playground bonding are not the typical subjects for a traditional musical. But the book by Paulanne Simmons convey a group of men with close affection for one another. When one of the friends has financial hardship, there is genuine concern from the others. It's comforting to see such camaraderie. Rachel Kaufman's music is fun and periodically upbeat, and her melodies occasionally evoke an older era. Simmons's lyrics effectively run the gamut from silly fun ("Blue Chip Teleconferencing") to wistful ("I'm Coming Home").
Despite its various incarnations, the musical still feels like a work in progress. There are long scenes without music, and then two or three musical numbers are introduced virtually back to back. And a couple of the storyline threads veer a little far from the main narrative.
According to a bio note in the program, Evan Edwards stepped in at the last minute to direct the production, and does a nice job. (He is also in excellent voice as one of the male friends Manny.)
There are enjoyable performances here. Kathryn Kates is a standout as the feisty, compassionate Mrs. Rivera and consistently garners big laughs. Patti Goettlicher has a charming stage presence beaming and crooning sweetly as Annie. Eddie Schnecker is strong as Jerry and performs one of the show's strongest song and dance numbers, "Small Town Attorney." Schnecker also serves as the show's choreographer and bestows merry dance moves for the ensemble. Vincent Ticali has warmth as Eddie, the narrator of sorts in the production.
In the Schoolyard is for theatergoers who like their musical comedies straightforward with a nostalgic wholesome flavor. The story and songs clearly yearn for years gone by.