“Bull Durham” is headed for Broadway.
Considered one of the best baseball movies of all time – Sports Illustrated actually ranks it the greatest film about any sport, ever – the 1988 romantic comedy has been adapted for the stage by its original writer and director Ron Shelton after a five-year incubation period.
First stop: Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, a prestigious regional showcase that has previously hosted premieres for film-to-stage adaptations like “Bring It On” and “The Color Purple.” If all goes well, “Bull Durham” will migrate to Broadway afterward, following the path of those successful musicals.
In the event that you’ve been in orbit and/or a coma for the last 25 years, “Bull Durham” tells the story of a curious love triangle set against the backdrop of old-school minor-league baseball – specifically, the Durham Bulls in the late 1980s. A huge hit critically and commercially, “Bull Durham” was a breakout film for Shelton and its three stars: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Shelton has gone on to a successful Hollywood directing career as well (“White Men Can’t Jump,” “Tin Cup”).
Audiences responded to the humor and authenticity of “Bull Durham” – Shelton spent five years in the minor leagues himself – and the film has arguably made the Bulls the most famous minor-league team in baseball. The film’s 25th anniversary last year sparked renewed enthusiasm around the movie, including the local “Bull City Summer” project, in which writers and photographers documented the entire 2013 Durham Bulls season. “Bull City Summer” is on view through Aug. 31 at the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh.
For the new musical, Shelton worked closely with folk singer-songwriter Susan Werner and a team of Broadway veterans to translate the story from screen to stage. Speaking from his home in California, Shelton discussed the new stage show, filming the original movie in Durham, and the challenge of R-rated baseball musicals.
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He didn’t say shoot in Durham, he just said check it out. I liked the ballpark in Durham. And the town was so depressed that I knew I could shoot anywhere for cheap. Those abandoned warehouses, that’s where we built our locker rooms. Annie’s house I found two blocks from the ballpark.
We also shot at Mitch’s Tavern in Raleigh. We can’t call it Mitch’s Tavern in the musical, or Mitch will want money. (Laughs.) It’s a watering hole that we go to many times. The tavern is one of our three main locations, along with Annie’s bedroom and the ballpark. Those are our main go-to spots.
Susan wants to elaborate on that lyrically, because it’s turning into a new song, the only song that hasn’t been written yet, actually. So in this case, I’ll email her back about what it means to me. That’s the kind of exchange we have all the time.
It reveals things about Annie that are important: Her discovery is, “When you know where home plate is, you know where everything else in the universe is.” Which is sort of an Annie thing to say – over-the-top and still sort of accurate. Pure Annie.