The new musical Joan Joyce!, playing at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, is the second iteration of the show. It had its world-premiere at the Legacy Theatre in Branford, CT in 2021.
Joan Joyce was a sports phenomenon, who grew up in Waterbury. She has been described as the greatest female athlete in history, surpassing even Babe Didrikson. Her main sport was softball and the records she holds as a pitcher are too numerous to list. However, Ms. Joyce also excelled in other sports arenas such as basketball and the LPGA tour. Her 17 putts in one round of golf is the lowest ever on the men or women’s professional circuit. Did I mention she struck out both Ted Williams and Hank Aaron in an exhibition event?
The musical, rendered by just an off-stage piano, contains a serviceable score with music by Brad Ross, Matthew Harrison and David Bell; lyrics by Keely Baisden Knudsen (who also co-wrote the book, directs and stars in the show) and Lauren Salatto-Rosenay). There is rudimentary choreography by Jennifer A. Buonfiglio and an engaging cast. However, as crafted by book writers Keely Baisden-Knudson and Lauren Salatto-Rosenay, Joan Joyce! comes across more as an episode of “This is Your Life,” then a full-fledged musical. The facts and anecdotes they present in short vignettes are attention-grabbing, but not necessarily structured for a book musical.
At one side of the stage is the character of the author (Al Bundonis), based on writer Tony Renzoni who wrote the book, “Connecticut Softball Legend Joan Joyce.” On the other side of the stage is Ms. Joyce (Keely Baisden-Knudson). The author heartily asks questions and Joan Joyce responds in a languid, matter-of-fact manner. Helping move the production along is a large movie screen, hanging center stage, which projects vintage photos of Joan Joyce, newsreels and newspaper headlines. While somewhat distracting, they are interesting to watch this legend in action.
Underneath the screen and in between the straightforward questions, a group of performers present moments from her life and her sporting accomplishments. The Director settles for a relaxed, unhurried approach to the material. The incorporation of the Q & A session with the musical interludes and dramatic pieces is not always crisp enough to allow for a good pacing of the show. Ms. Knudson does allow for an ample number of projections, marvelously rendered by Lauren Salatto-Rosenay, to amplify this wondrous story.
The troupe of actors and actresses are charming and likeable. Most of the featured cast members play multiple roles as the show meanders to its finale. Kiersten Bjork, who plays the teenage Joan Joyce, stands out among the performers. She radiates a warmth and enthusiasm that, overall, is lacking in the production. Ms. Bjork also has a wonderful singing voice.
Joan Joyce!, playing at the Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury, CT through October 22. Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.