Take Them In
From baseball season to the holiday season, here are Yogi Berra (played by Ben Gazzara) and Michael Feinstein to help us celebrate.
For many boys (and girls) of all ages, the men who played this game are the heroes of our youth. Revisiting those heroes today frequently puts a few cracks in the images we once held dear. A few seasons ago, in Cobb, we learned that the game's greatest hitter, Ty Cobb, was also an infamous bigot with a mean streak as wide as the Mississippi and twice as deep. But another baseball play has recently arrived Off-Broadway at the Lamb's Theatre, and this one is guided by the loving hand of a genuine fan. Written by Tom Lysaght, it doesn't delve into the dark side of its subject; rather, it celebrates the values of its simple, honest intensely loveable hero. The play's title says it all: Nobody Don't Like Yogi.
Of course, the Yogi in question is Yogi Berra, who was a Hall of Fame catcher and outfielder for the New York Yankees and later a manager of the Yankees and Mets. His reputation only grew in stature when he was unfairly fired by the Yankees' principal owner, George Steinbrenner, and vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium as long as that man owned the team. Berra kept that vow for the better part of two decades before finally relenting.
This one-person show, starring a wonderfully cast Ben Gazzara as Yogi, is set on the day of Berra's return to Yankee Stadium. An ingratiating mix of biography, humor, and baseball history, it's a warm and winning primer on character. We hear all of Yogi's famous malaprops (plus a few extra invented by the writer?) along with funny stories about Casey Stengel, respectful tales of Joe DiMaggio, and the dark, thundering opus of Berra's battle with George Steinbrenner.
Throughout the play, Gazzara is flawless, capturing Berra as a fierce but loving family man who is less smart than he is savvy. This Yogi is surer of himself in his humility than most men are in their bravado. Directed by Paul Linke with a gentle, unforced hand, Nobody Don't Like Yogi is a simple, unaffected play that comes by its emotions honestly. Just like Yogi.
Some folks mark the start of the holiday season by the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center, others by the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. We mark it by the opening of Michael Feinstein's annual holiday show at Feinstein's at the Regency.
One of the numbing aspects of the season is the sheer repetition of Christmas music between Thanksgiving and December 25. In his new show, Feinstein neatly avoids that trap in two ways. First, for each holiday song he offers that's penned by the likes of a Hugh Martin or a Jimmy Webb, he sings another non-holiday number by the same composer. As a result, you can lift your head out of the eggnog during every other song. Yet the eggnog is delicious because because so many of the holiday tunes that Feinstein selects are decidedly different from what we usually hear at this time of year. "Cool Yule," a tongue-in-cheek beat generation number by Steven Allen, is certainly not the norm. "The Secret of Christmas," by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, is a gorgeous, relatively little-known gem with a romantic melody and an affecting lyric. And you can always count on Feinstein to include a Chanukah number that you've never heard before: This year, he delivered a deeply moving cantorial song called "Generation."