ORLANDO—For years, Ron Shelton tossed around the idea of making a sequel to Bull Durham, the iconic 1988 baseball movie that helped transform the Durham Bulls into one of the most recognizable sports franchises and kick-started minor league baseball’s growth from a mom-and-pop business into a multi-million dollar industry.
Shelton wanted to revisit the characters in the film he wrote and directed based on his own playing career in the Baltimore Orioles farm system, but saw no natural direction to take Crash, Annie and Nuke. Instead, Shelton will bring them back to life on stage when Bull Durham debuts as a musical next September at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta before moving on to Broadway.
“This satisfied my desire to go back and hang out with the characters,” Shelton said.
The musical was announced Tuesday night at a Winter Meetings reception in Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort hosted by Buffalo Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich, who are funding the project as part of their Rich Entertainment Group.
The play will follow the same plot line of the movie that starred Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon but with a more in-depth look into some of the movie’s secondary characters and a few new twists and turns toward the end, Shelton said. “I didn’t really have a third act in the movie,” Shelton said, “so I had to invent some new stuff for the second act (of the play).”
Veteran Broadway casting director Laura Stanczyk and producer Jack Viertel, whom Shelton described as the “New York Yankees of theater,” are assisting in transforming the tale of two of America’s favorite past times—baseball and romance—from screen to stage.
“It translates to the theater exceptionally well because it is not a movie about baseball,” Stanczyk said. “It’s a classic love triangle set in the world of baseball.”
The project has been in the works for three or four years, when Stanczyk and Viertel first approached Shelton with the idea. “I had to take a crash course on musical writing,” said Shelton, who also wrote and directed popular sports films like White Men Can’t Jump and Tin Cup.
The play is directed by Kip Fagan, who is best known for directing Jesse Eisenberg’s The Revisionist (with Vanessa Redgrave). Bull Durham is the eighth venture into theater for Bob and Mindy Rich; the couple most recently helped bring the musical Chaplin to Broadway in September 2012. The music and lyrics were written by Susan Werner, who made a name for herself as a folk singer but has also recorded jazz and gospel songs.
The play promises turn many of the movie’s famous lines into songs. The opening track, “Opening Day,” includes Annie Savoy’s famous line describing her belief in the “Church of Baseball.” The second number, Damn This Game, puts to music Crash Davis’ frustration of being demoted to Durham to mentor young ace Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. “I’ve played for nearly 20 years and nobody remembers your name,” Crash sings. “Damn this game.” When LaLoosh experiences his first taste of success in the song “Winning,” he belts out to his manager: “Winning is better than losing. Winning is even better than love. Winning is never confusing. Winning, I’d like to do a lot more of.”
“I never dreamed Bull Durham as a musical,” Shelton said. “But it’s been a very fun process, a very satisfying process.”