Fantasy Football: The Musical?
nytheatre.com review by Scott Witebsky
October 2, 2009
It all started out with a fantasy...in more ways than one. Roughly a year ago, ESPN.com columnists Bill Simmons and Matthew Berry opened a contest in which the eight fans who offered them the best gifts could join their fantasy basketball league. Writer/composer David Ingber submitted his proposed gift: that he would create a musical, to be produced in New York, in which the main characters would be Simmons and Berry. Ingber's offer was a finalist, but he did not win. Despite not being selected, as a devoted artist, he followed through and created Fantasy Football: the musical?, and I am most happy that he did.
As I entered the theater, I was immediately enveloped by a sporting mood, with a set filled with bright orange lockers, sports memorabilia, and dry erase boards with the title of the musical displayed on it. The latter is used in a Brechtian fashion throughout the show. Instead of walk-in music, we had the joy of listening to audio clips of football highlights. The only thing missing was some brats and beer.
The story takes place in 1991 and stars fictional Matthew Berry. Stuck in an awful job, Berry fantasizes of working at ESPN and living at home with his nearly-evicted mother and computer-nerd little brother, Skip. Trying to save the family, Matthew takes a job with former friend, the fictional Bill Simmons, who owns his own illegal sports gambling business that, unbeknownst to Matthew, is flat-out floundering. To save the business, Matthew and Bill, along with their buddies Stoner and Jack-O, create what we now know as fantasy football.
A less developed but amusing side story consists of Bill's rocky relationship with his girlfriend Sarah. Their problems boil down to the fact that Bill completely focuses on himself and his business and does not really care about Sarah and her dreams.
Ingber's writing is hilarious. It is zinger after zinger throughout the entire 90-minute musical. Some jokes are raunchy and sophomoric, some are intelligent and witty. We get some sports jokes, we get some theater jokes. There is also some topical humor of the early '90s era, as well as of today's era. My favorite joke in the entire show revolved around Sarah, who is auditioning to play in a Christian rock music festival called Christ-bilee, which is explained as the opposite of Jubilee! There is such a plentitude of jokes that Ingber could afford nixing the small handful that played to deaf ears.
Ingber's music is top-notch as well, with multiple standout numbers. All songs are based right out of the early '90s with power ballads galore, a stadium anthem including choreographed touchdown dance moves, and old-school rap. The latter includes a hilarious number performed by Patrick Benedict, explaining this crazy new thing called the internet. Ingber even parodies music from Les Miserables when Jack-O, played by Rob Hinderliter with a politician's arrogant flare, is rousing the troops at their first fantasy football draft. Instead of the symbolic red flag at the end of the number, a giant Hooters flag is flown.
Fantasy Football: the musical? is pure camp (in the best sense of the word) and all the actors are up for playing in the style and letting it all hang out. Ben Steinfeld stands out as the hero, Matthew. Despite his overly anxious, somewhat nebbish facade, he is the most believable, grounded actor on stage. He automatically takes the audience in. Nick Spangler transforms Bill Simmons, a character who is literally a criminal and a loser boyfriend, into one that we root for through his boyish endearment. And stealing every scene she is in is Sam Tedaldi, playing the super pretty, yet super quirky, self-proclaimed Jesus nut. Sam plays the comedy to the max, and even though her character isn't always the focus of the scene, she always has some nuanced comedic bit going on, always including her expertise in the catalogue of Lucille Ball facial expressions.
Fantasy Football: the musical? is heavily "bro-mosexual," often focusing on how sports and gambling are common outlets that bring men together. This is best exemplified by the Stoner's song "Man Friends," delivered by another gifted comedic actor, Jeff Nathan. However, one of the musical's biggest accomplishments is that you don't have to know or even care about sports to enjoy the show. Using the themes of dreams and perseverance, the show illustrates the similarities of all humankind, despite our apparent differences. It is indeed a show that anybody can relate to.
Within the show, the cast briefly mentions transferring to Broadway. That may be more fantasy than reality, but as long as there is a fantasy, anything can happen.