Review: ‘Looking for Roberto Clemente’ at Imagination Stage

Searching for something fun, informative, and meaningful to do with the family this spring? Imagination Stage’s current production of Looking for Roberto Clemente is a touching show centered on a young group of kids in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, a time when Roberto Clemente had taken the once floundering Pirates and led them to being top competitors. Sam, Charlie, and Peter idolize Clemente for his tremendous baseball record but slowly discover that being a true hero has nothing to do with physical abilities and everything to do with heart.

David Landstrom (Sam), Eben Logan (Charlie), and Philip da Costa (Peter). Photo by Margot Schulman.

David Landstrom (Sam), Eben Logan (Charlie), and Philip da Costa (Peter). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Looking for Roberto Clemente was created by Karen Zacarias (script) and Deborah Wicks La Puma (score), the creative duo who has given young audiences other such gems as Ferdinand the Bull and Chasing George Washington: A White House Adventure.

Director Janet Stanford beautifully explains in the program that the story “crystallizes for young people the choice between self-interest and altruism”. Yet the message of the piece is by no means the only take-away of this fantastic production. With heart-stopping harmonies, aided by the musical direction of Deborah Jacobson, and dynamic choreography by Stephen Brotebeck, the cast delivers an impressive performance with infectious energy and soul.

The trio of friends at the center of the story is played by David Landstrom (Sam), Eben K Logan (Charlie), and Philip da Costa (Peter). These three exemplify the musical theater term triple-threat, with Landstrom at the head of the group. The kids dream big and play without care in the year 1972. But everything begins to change for them when Puerto Rican Pirates’ superstar, Roberto Clemente, hits his infamous 3000th ball, which magically finds its way into Sam’s living room.

Sam is mystically able to talk through his radio to Clemente (Jaysen Wright), who serves as an insightful voice of reason and inspiration throughout the production, although Sam is slow to truly understand the meaning of his idol’s words.  Wright gives a striking performance as Clemente and the scenes between Wright and Landstrom illustrate the struggle Clemente had with being labeled as “hero” and the admirable humility he possessed.

The enchanted “gift” from Clemente seems to suddenly give Sam, a previously sub-par baseball player, fantastic pitching abilities. Soon enough, Captain Joe (Calvin McCullough), the star of the most prestigious little league team in Pittsburgh, the Barracudas, learns of Sam’s talent and recruits him to his team.

Landstrom plays Sam with all of the unbridled joy of a kid on top of the world, and Logan’s Charlie and da Costa’s Peter join him in a high-energy, catchy number, “Home run, Grand slam Promise”, as the kids vow their eternal friendship and to always stick together.

At the first day of team practice, though, Captain Joe explains his “win at all cost” attitude with the show-stopping song “Winning is a Ball,” and creates a wedge between the previously inseparable Sam and Charlie when he refuses to allow Charlie on the team because she is a girl. Joe is parroted by his second in command, Noah, played by the feisty and hilarious Ian Anthony Coleman and Sam is forced to choose between being a “winner” and his friend.

Logan is a power-house as the incredulous Charlie, who ultimately decides to create her own team and takes Peter and Tommy (Charlie Martin), a special needs kid on the Barracudas who is never given the chance to play, with her.  Naming her crew The Amigos, which Charlie emphasizes to Sam is Spanish for ‘“the friends,” the team battles throughout the season and eventually has to face-off with the Barracudas to determine the final “winner.”

Jaysen Wright (Roberto Clemente). Margot Schulman.

Jaysen Wright (Roberto Clemente). Margot Schulman.

Looking for Roberto Clemente is a fun and uplifting show that is full of significant life lessons of inclusion and acceptance. Imagination Stage tells this poignant story of transformation and self-sacrifice with the help of a stellar cast and production team. As one of the songs in the production explains, every one of us in this world could be a “Diamond in the Rough” and we must always strive to find the beauty within ourselves and in others.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Looking for Roberto Clemente plays through May 22, 2016 at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

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