STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Bats crack on baseball diamonds at the same time the curtain rises on the 76th season at the Bucks County Playhouse (BCP). Everyone’s hoping for a home run with the comedic musical “National Pastime.”
The story: It’s 1933 in small town Iowa, and Barry, co-owner of the local radio station WZBQ, tries to keep the other owner from selling. The biggest crowd-pleaser once was the broadcast of a now-defunct baseball team’s games. Barry decides to offer baseball games again, only this time, there’s no team and there are no games. Will his scheme change co-owner Karen’s mind and will they fall in love?
The cast of “National Pastime” features Broadway performers from “The Book of Mormon,” “Les Miserables,” and “Hair.” Director Hunter Foster, a BCP Artistic Associate, has performed on the Great White Way as well, in “The Bridges of Madison County,” “The Producers,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Urinetown.” At BCP, he previously directed “Summer of ‘42” and “The Rocky Horror Show.”
During a break from rehearsal in New York City, he talked about the challenges of mounting this production.
“We’re trying to put a new musical on its feet, marrying the script to the actors and choreography and discovering new things in the room, what the actors are bringing to it,” he said. “We’re putting all those pieces together, slowly figuring it out.”
He also discussed how much he’s looking forward to coming back to New Hope.
“I love it. What’s great about it — the theater is centrally located. It’s very much a part of the town,” he said. “I love the vibe of New Hope, the ambience on the Delaware. It’s an eclectic little town. I’ve fallen in love with it.”
One of his favorite things about “National Pastime” is its nostalgia.
“It’s a screwball comedy that harkens back to golden age of musicals. It’s a traditional sort of piece, which I don’t think they’re writing anymore,” Foster said. “This is a throwback to the comedies of the 1930s, but it feels fresh because you don’t see a lot of that these days.”
Spencer Plachy plays Barry, an optimistic, sees-the-bright-side kind of guy. Though the story happens during the Great Depression, Barry thinks everything will work out just fine. The actor can relate to his character’s outlook.
“As actors, you have to have this kind of hope that some kind of dream is going to work out,” he said. “That lives inside me regardless of what happens.”
Plachy hasn’t worked with Foster before. He’s a fan of his, though, and is enjoying the collaboration.
“It’s been delightful. I welcome the kind of environment that he puts forth,” Plachy said. “I really enjoy when you feel like you’re contributing. You can find yourself in situations where a director tells you what you do and you do it. This isn’t like that. You feel like you’re part of creating something.”
Plachy, who has performed on Broadway in “Romeo and Juliet” and in national theaters in “Oklahoma” and “Fiddler on the Roof” among others, likes finding “the moments” in musicals.
“People break out in song. From an acting approach, you have to find why. You’re singing because you can’t say it. It’s so important, it’s so big, the only way to convey it is to sing,” he said.
He likes that “National Pastime” is old-school funny and positive, too.
“I’ve always been a fan of screwball comedy,” he said. “And the whole idea of optimism — that’s very present in the show, on every page, in every note.”
Both Foster and Plachy are optimistic that people who come to see the show will enjoy another amazing live theater experience. Both men enjoy the connection theater provides.
“There’s a big 3-D fad in movies right now. I tell people that 3-D has been around for hundreds of years. It’s called theater,” Plachy said. “The show that happens on any given night is its own unique contained living experience. It lives and then it’s gone. You have to be there in person to feel what that’s like and really be moved by that kind of interaction.”
For “National Pastime,” that means audiences and the cast will share the enjoyment of a nod to the past, as well as lots of laughs, music and dancing, and fun.
“It’s whimsical and funny and romantic,” Foster said. “In a lot of ways, it’s sort of magical.”
IF YOU GO
What: “National Pastime”
When: Show runs April 2-19.
Where: Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope.
Tickets: Starting at $29.
Info.: Call (215) 862-2121 or visit www.bcptheater.org.
Note: BCP’s season will include productions of “Company,” “On Golden Pond,” “Animal Crackers,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”