ORLANDO — It’s pretty safe to say that the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of the musical A Big Day For Baseball, done as part of their ongoing children’s theater series, has huge crossover appeal to adults. In fact, during the production on Saturday, it was the adults who left raving about how charming the show was.
And they were certainly right about that.
The story, adapted from the Magic Tree House novel by Mary Pope Osborne, follows young Jack and Annie as they get swept back to a remarkable moment in history, when baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson played in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1947. This delightful fantasy mixes history lessons with a message about racial harmony that’s as uplifting as it is compelling. The audience looked captivated throughout the entire show, and for good reason.
What is the play A Big Day For Baseball?
Osborne’s book, part of her ongoing Magic Tree Adventure series, follows Jack and Annie as they get magical baseball caps, and once they enter that magic tree house, it whisks them back to that special ballgame in Brooklyn on April 15 1947. As they arrive, Jack and Annie are made batboys during the game, even though they had hoped to become ballplayers, and they wonder what’s so special about this particular game.
They quickly find out, when a young player named Jackie Robinson steps up to first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the young African American gets angrily booed by some people in the crowd, which outrages Jack and Annie. Their lessons are only just beginning.
Part of their lesson involves meeting two other teens, the twins Otis and Olive, who are reluctant to become friends with Jack and Annie, which leaves them very confused. What’s the problem? As Otis and Olive point out, it’s 1947, and white kids never want to be friends with kids like them, who are black.
Does the Orlando Shakes production work?
There’s plenty to enjoy in this production, including the Magic Tree House itself, the fast pace of the show under the direction of Nicolette Quintero — and the eye-popping choreography by a very gifted cast. It’s a very spirited production, which clocks in at a tidy 55 minutes without an intermission, and the production zips to its engaging conclusion in the blink of an eye.
The cast is uniformly good. Anita Whitney is outstanding as Granny Beck, who was born into slavery and now, at age 101, is enjoying the excitement of listening to Jackie Robinson’s historic triumph on the radio in her very own home. Johnathan Arvelo also does an exceptional job as Jackie Robinson, and he has a singing voice that’s pure paradise.
It’s a terrific show for kids — and for the adults who came along with them.
Where Can I See A Big Day For Baseball?
Sponsored by The Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, the production of A Big Day For Baseball is being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park, now through Saturday, March 18. For tickets, call (407) 447-1700
This is a family-friendly production, and children ages 2 and younger are welcome to sit on laps for the performance. Children three and older must have a ticket.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.