Elizabeth Zanghi/The Ram
Little League baseball has always been a great subject for the medium of film, but it turns out its comedic appeal can be just as enticing on the stage. “Take Your Base,” the latest Black Box musical from first time writers Jeff Sharkey and James Murtaugh, continues an excellent string of productions in the cramped theater, never forgetting of course to bring humor to the table. Infused with pop culture, countless movie references and Bad News Bears relationships, the baseball musical comedy is a strong first effort from the duo.
“It was originally supposed to be a sketch video in which it was going to be just a manager in a press conference after the game and then you’d pan over and see it was all about a little league team,” said Jeff Sharkey (FCRH ‘15). “But then we were like, ‘Let’s write a musical,’ and so we had a couple ideas what to do and the Little League one came out on top. I think children are funny.”
Little kids are especially funny when college kids play them. Last year, Fordham Experimental Theater put on the first student written musical, “Cowboys Don’t Sing” from Dennis Flynn and Johnny Kelly, which became a huge success. “They were definitely helpful in at least showing us that we could do this,” said Sharkey.
Sharkey did not have much background in writing, let alone comedic writing, except for FET’s standup group. His method for writing a musical was a bit more basic.
“It was all like James and I just sitting there and being, ‘I think this is funny,’ and then just writing it,” he said.
“We kind of approached it like, ‘we’re not writing a musical, we’re writing what we want a musical to be,’” said Murtaugh (FCRH), who collaborated with Sharkey on the musical. “I always thought it would be cool if there was a musical with just nice folk songs to listen to and that were fun to play.”
Murtaugh, the musical brains behind the project, started playing instruments in third grade, beginning with trumpet and then rotating to glockenspiel, piano, drums and guitar. He leads the small pit with his acoustic guitar and folksy harmonica humming, featured most prominently in the set change interludes, harnessing the Williamsport, PA spirit.
“I always listen to Bob Dylan and Brice Springsteen and always like the sound of harmonica, and I just thought for the folksier parts of the show it would work really well.”
The show centers on two teams, one from Maine, the other from Oregon, and their convergence in Williamsport for the World Series. A boy-girl romance ensues as the teams prepare, a relationship injected with humor from exterior sources like coaches who forget they are fathers and broadcast partners who are rarely on the same page. The little league experience rings true mostly because Sharkey had lived it.
“I only played little league. I tried out for high school baseball and did not make it,” he laughs. “I played in the all star tournament. We went to the district championship. But in the grand scheme of things of the Little League World Series, that’s nothing.” Murtaugh is simply a baseball fan.
“It was a pretty perfect set-up because Jeff took care of the script pretty much and we would just sit in my living room and while he would write out the scene I would figure out the song,” said Murtaugh.
The good news about the two is that they share the same style of comedy. It’s uncomfortable and melodramatic and everything a troubled Little Leaguer might just experience. Shying away from the full range of 12-year-old conflicts was not an option.
“We’re very self aware that it’s silly and stupid. But I’d say it’s more absurdist. I think there are a lot of dark tones in it, a lot of problems with parents and kids, but we try to make light of that. “