I really don't know why I get such pleasure out of returning to Heritage Square Music Hall again and again to watch pretty much the same kind of entertainment — though obviously with variations — but I do. The current production, The Baseball Show, is actually a remount of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which the company staged in 2003. One of my sweetest, nicest theater memories is of the little boy who sat beside me at that show. He was perhaps three or four, and alternated between drooping with fatigue and starting up, wide awake, to bubble with amazed laughter at what he was seeing. Toward the evening's end, a Nerf ball flew over his head, and he reared up high, arms stretched to get it, then missed, gasped, giggled and collapsed face first into his mother's lap. As I watched this version, I kept thinking about my two-year-old grandson and how I'll have to bring him to Heritage in a couple of years. He has a very retentive memory and, like all toddlers, a unique way of piecing things together, and I want to know just what he'll make of something this sunny and silly, and how he'll process the crazed adult behavior on display.
I don't remember Take Me Out well enough to know what's been changed for The Baseball Show, but the plot seems pretty much the same. It concerns evil, malaprop-prone Vincent Vascombe, owner of the Beloit Bulldogs, who's determined to hold on to his star player, Bill "The Bomber" Dawson. But Dawson, aided by his smart, competent fiancée, Helen, has plans for the majors, and a talent scout (the convincing Scott Koop) is hanging around. So Vascombe hatches a plot to kidnap Helen, hoping this will throw Dawson off his game. There's lots of funny ancillary stuff. Vascombe can barely speak a word without mangling it — "Let me induce myself"; "for a stifling fee"; "a talent for stating the oblivious" — and T.J. Mullin delivers the dialogue with his usual low-key and unflappable aplomb. Most of the other characters find his speech impenetrable; the only person who can translate is the hired muscle, Sid — as played by Alex Crawford, a wry, peaceful sort of fellow who prefers minding his own business to breaking bones for the boss. Rory Pierce is a sympathetic Bomber, and Kira Cauthorn's Helen is strong, clean and sharp as wire. Newcomer Vanessa Bowie plays a couple of roles with shiny enthusiasm, though she hasn't quite integrated into the troupe yet and has to work at being funny. The others may be energetic as all get-out, but they don't have to try for funniness. It's in their bones.
Which, of course, leads me to Annie Dwyer. Once again, she's irresistible, this time as Vascombe's moll, Rose Louise Romberg. Variously bewigged, a crazed amalgam of tough broad and breathy Marilyn Monroe, pouncing and preening, she owns the stage every time she sashays onto it. This time, there's no corralling some poor sucker in the audience and claiming him as her own, no sticky kisses on bald pates, no long fingers clawing through a male ponytail. Nope. This time, there's gum. Annie can make an inverted bubble. She can make an inverted bubble inside an inverted bubble. She can form her gum into a long rope and swing it out over the audience like a lasso, then command it to come back to her. "It stinks in here," she announces at one point, fastidiously shaping a chewed pink glob into a circle and cinching it over her nose. I've seen her do this before — in fact, her tricks earned a Best of Denver award a few years ago. But the novelty doesn't wear off. As we left Heritage, a few of us were still trying to figure out how she does it. "Is it some kind of special gum?" one of my friends wondered, "or is it that she chews it into submission over a couple of hours?"
Annie's unself-conscious lunacy goes so far beyond anything else I've seen on a stage, and is so insanely creative, that I can't help thinking it rises to the level of art, like the deathless work of the great clowns. Though I don't think Jacques Tati or Oleg Popov could do that chewing-gum thing.
Almost everything Heritage does is entertaining, but this show is one of the best — with its good humor, flying Nerf balls and the fun, fast musical medley that concludes the evening and proves again the cast's musicianship. Bring along your toddler — literal or inner.