“There had been discussion over the years from various people, including producers, but the timing wasn’t good. I was busy on other things,” Shelton said. “When [New York producers] Jack Viertel and Laura Stanczyk called four-plus years ago, the timing was good. I liked them enormously. We had an instant rapport and that started the process.
“The development of a Broadway musical is a slow and steady thing. You do labs, try out songs and try out [other] things. They brought Susan Werner in [to write the music and lyrics]. I had never [written] a musical before. She’s brilliant in my mind. I just love the music she’s come up with.”
Now the Alliance Theatre in Midtown is the venue bringing the movie to the stage. It will host the world premiere of the musical tonight and through Oct. 5.
“I first found out about ‘Bull Durham’ from … Stanczyk,” Alliance Artistic Director Susan V. Booth said. “After seeing a workshop in New York, I was hooked by the pure love of baseball that was evident in three fully realized lead characters. I knew the Alliance should be the theater to give ‘Bull Durham’ its world premiere. And we have such a strong track record for producing new stage musicals.”
The movie, named by Sports Illustrated as the No. 1 Greatest Sports Movie of All Time, received an Academy Award nomination for Shelton’s original screenplay. It was loosely based on his experiences of playing minor league baseball.
Directed by Kip Fagan, the musical stars Broadway actors Will Swenson, John Behlmann and Melissa Errico as veteran catcher “Crash” Davis, rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh and Annie Savoy, respectively, in a love triangle that uses baseball as the backdrop. It is recommended for audiences 16 and older because of some sexual content and innuendo.
Shelton said adapting the film into a musical was natural.
“It’s very musical movie even though all the music is dropping the needles on records and buying the rights to songs,” he said. “It has a musical structure with [a love triangle involving] two guys and a woman and sorting that out.”
Shelton said the musical has new scenes, new dialogue and a new character.
“How do you take a scene in a movie that happens in five places and make it one scene in the musical?” he said. “That’s why we want people to come to see it and because we’ve done it. Creatively that was the fun challenge, how to theatrically realize the story in new and fresh ways. It’s just not the movie with music [added]. Believe me.”
Said Booth, “This show exhibits some of the most athletic choreography I’ve ever seen. It’s a full-on love affair with America’s pastime. [It] doesn’t hurt that Ron Shelton … is the book [script] writer. It also doesn’t hurt that Atlanta’s a town that loves our sports, especially our baseball.”
Shelton said he chose the Alliance over “various regional theaters” to do the musical partly because it, like the film, which was set in Durham, N.C., is in the South. He also said he has “fallen in love with Atlanta” since coming to town in July to start rehearsals.
“Atlanta is a major city but it has a sports history and a big baseball presence, not just the Atlanta Braves and the history of the Braves, but Henry Aaron is the greatest and is still [involved] with the team,” he said. “It goes back to the Atlanta Crackers and the Southern League. I think there was a simpatico. The Alliance, [Producer and Casting Director] Jody Feldman and General Manager Mike Schleifer really reached out and thought this was a good spot [for it]. We thought this was the spot. We found a lot of fabulous [acting] talent in Atlanta.”
The Alliance will honor Aaron and his wife Billye for their philanthropy, including youth educational programming, in the season opening celebration Sept. 13. The event will include dinner and a performance of the musical.
When asked what he would tell fans of the movie that may not be into musicals to convince them to come see the Alliance’s version of “Bull Durham,” Shelton said, “This is for you. [For] all the guys whose wives drag them to musicals, drag your wife to it.”
Said Booth, “The film version of ‘Bull Durham’ is incredibly musical. Susan Werner has written a bluesy Americana score that belongs with this story. If you love these characters, you will love this production.
“There is a crazy amount of talent connected to this production. … I’m blown away by the entirely new life they’ve brought to this story and these characters.”
If you go:
o What: “Bull Durham”
o Where: Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St., Midtown
o When: today to Oct. 5; Season Opening Celebration Sept. 13
o Tickets: $30 to $75; $250 for the celebration
o Information: www.alliancetheatre.org