now opening on (tsf’s) broadway: tennis, the musical


We found a picture of a tennis net on a stage. No, don’t get too excited. It’s just visual enhancement. (Photo by alliancetheatre via flickr.)

Just in time for the US Open, TSF presents our interview with tennis/Broadway expert, Bob Kim. This interview is about the two worlds of tennis and Broadway colliding and the fun to be had when imagining what it would be like if stars from their respective worlds tried to make the jump onto the unknown stage or unknown court. Not an expert on both worlds like Bob? Don’t worry, you’ll still love his quippy answers. And his perfect Broadway-meets-tennis-day is one to be emulated, or at least attempted. -NM

The bio: Bob lives and works near the ATP Legg Mason tennis tournament.  That would be Washington DC, where the regional theater is charming and often surprisingly good and the big theater is mostly lowest-common denominator Broadway.   This is Bob’s first big blog opportunity.  He has performed in off-blog venues, such as in letters to the editor and in nonprofit newsletters.  He thanks his parents, all of his friends and Muffy for all of their love and support (xoxo hugs!!!!!), and Amtrak.

TSF: What current tennis star would make the best leading Broadway man? Woman?
Bob Kim: Where to start?  First of all, it really depends on the show.  Tennis is an international sport so there’s a natural fit with certain shows.  For Evita, you could go with Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentinian and reigning US Open champion.  But you’d have to resurrect Gabriela Sabatini as Evita because I can’t think of a top, current Argentinian in the WTA at the moment.  For Miss Saigon, you could go with Ai Sugiyama or Na Li or Tamarine Tanasugarn.  None of them are Vietnamese, but since when has ethnic verisimilitude mattered on Broadway?

If I had to pick one man and one woman, I think you have to go with Serena on the women’s side.  She already has acting experience and an extensive IMDB page.  Judging from her last USO performance, she can definitely emote.  She would have been perfect delivering a profanity-laced diatribe in last year’s Reasons to be Pretty.

For the men, I’d pick Novak Djokovic.  His on-court imitations of other tennis players like Roddick, Federer and especially Maria Sharapova suggest real underlying acting talent.  He’s a ham.  He likes being in front of people.  Too bad these days he’s complaining of nausea and dizziness on the big (tennis) stage.  I think he’s a bit of a drama queen.  We’ve never seen those on Broadway before!  He’d be perfect.

TSF: OK got it. Enough with the drama queens though, who on the ATP tour would make the best chorus boy? Why?
BK: I’m going to say two people — the Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob.  They’re twins so they almost count as one.  They already sing (in a band), and they are clean-scrubbed, extremely boring white boys who look exactly alike — and they play pro doubles, which is like the tennis equivalent of off-off-Broadway.  They are used to being in the background rather than in the lead.

TSF: Speaking of the lead, if Roger Federer, a quintessential leading man, could belt one show tune about his career, which would he choose and why?
BK: Uh, hello! Everything’s Coming Up Roses from Gypsy.  Federer has 16 freaking Slam titles. This song holds true even before he won the French last year — he was the crazy maniacal Mama Rose trying to pretend he was happy and that Nadal wasn’t in fact his eternal nemesis thwarting his goal to win all four majors and sail into tennis immortality.

TSF: Quite rosy, indeed. OK, let’s switch gears a little bit. Which current Broadway star would have the best chance of becoming a tennis star?
BK: I would say any of the Billy Elliotts.  Everyone else is too old to have a chance.  Well, then again you have Kimiko Date Krumm on the women’s tour, who retired last millennium and is now back in the top 100.  She’s like 83 years old now. Didn’t she play against Margaret Court?  Maybe there’s hope yet to see Angela Lansbury at Wimbledon.

TSF: Well, Angela does have “Duece” under her belt. Even if it didn’t get rave reivew. What show currently on Broadway mirrors the tennis tours the most?
BK: God of Carnage.  No one can survive the brutality of the year-long pro tennis circuit.  They’re all walking wounded.  Between that and the vicious gossip (not to mention Andre Agassi‘s tell-all book), everyone is getting ripped a new one.

Pool Boy hasn’t made it to Broadway yet, but those tennis racquets look pretty cool on stage, right? Maybe Elphaba should consider using one to fly in Wicked, no? (screen grab via facebook)

TSF: Which ATP and WTA stars would be most likely to participate in Broadway Bares? Most unlikely? (Broadway Bares is a fundraiser put on by the Broadway community each summer to raise money for AIDS. Actors and addresses ‘bare’ quite a bit of skin in dance numbers to help bring in raucous crowds.)
BK: This one is easy.  Have you seen Fernarndo Verdasco in his Calvin Klein model shots?  I mean, he’s already just one little bulging piece of cotton fabric away.  For the women, I think you go with anyone who’s posed for the SI swimsuit issue, and there are a lot to choose from: Ivanovic, Kirilenko, Golovin, Hantuchova… didn’t Serena even do it?  Let’s not forget Anna Kournikova; she never won a damn tournament in her life but her figure is still plastered on every male adolescent’s ceiling.

As for who will NOT bare all, I would say Wayne Odesnik on the men’s side.  Never heard of him?  He’s in the tennis minor leagues. The one that admitted to trying to smuggle human growth hormones out of Australia.  If he posed naked, he’d expose all his needle marks.  So Broadway Bares ain’t gonna happen for this little cheater.  Over his lawyer’s dead body.

For the women, there’s no competition here: it’s Sania Mirza.  She’s a Muslim from India.  I think the whole country went into apoplectic shock when she was first spotted in a tennis skirt.  (What was she supposed to do?  I’m sorry, you can’t crack the top 100 on the WTA tour wearing a sari or a burka.)  If she were even more scantily clad she’d be abducted at Roland Garros and never seen again for years.

TSF: Using Broadway personalities, cast your perfect tennis match (Chair umpire, lines people, ball kids, players, coaches, tournament referee, commentators).
BK: I think the tournament referee should be James Gandolfini because I don’t think anyone would challenge him.  I don’t know about the whole tournament cast, but I do know which tete a tetes I’d like to see whether on the tennis court or on stage:
1. Patti Lupone vs. Leslie Kritzer — Who does a better Lupone imitation?
2. Sutton Foster vs. Kristin Chenoweth — Who plays ditzy soprano better?
3. Audra McDonald vs. Tonya Pinkins — Who would be the best lead in a new musical  entitled Caroline and the Purple Raisin?
4. Harvey Fierstein vs. Nathan Lane vs. Sean Hayes — Who’s gayer?
5. Bernadette Peters vs. Alice Ripley — Whose voice is more shot after ten million performances?

TSF: I love those! I think my fave would be Sutton versus Kristin. Sort of a MTV Deathmatch vibe to that bout! OK, so now choose current or former Broadway musicals and fill in their casts using tennis personalities.
BK: Sure.
1. Wicked Venus (Glinda) and Serena (Elphaba)
2. Beauty and the Beast – Kirilenko and Kuznetsova (ouch!)
3. Million (Billion?)-Dollar Quartet — Federer, Nadal, Serena and Venus
4. American Idiot — Wayne Odesnik
5. Jersey BoyJustin Gimelstob
6. Crash KingsNovak Djokovic (during matches) and Marat Safin (in his car)

TSF: How about the Slam tournaments as musicals?
BK: A Steady Rain, Wimbledon; The 39[,000,000] Steps, French Open; Avenue Q (aka Flushing Meadows), US Open; South Pacific, Australian Open.

TSF: So now that we’ve had our fun with lists, let’s get a good Playbill featurette question in: What are the similarities of the Broadway world and the professional tennis tours?
BK: Obviously, both are a grind.  I’m not sure which is worse, doing 8 shows a week or playing 100 matches a year on 6 continents.  Both have live audiences, which lead to unpredictable situations.  At Wimbledon you have streakers; on Broadway, someone could fart during your soliloquy, or worse.  Drunk audience members can be so obnoxious.  Finally, ticket prices at both can be outrageous: I can hardly afford the nosebleed seats anywhere, I don’t care if it’s  Arthur Ashe Stadium or the Gershwin Theatre!

TSF: Enough of Sutton versus Kristin, what about Matthew Perry versus… well, some big Broadway fan. Who are the more diehard fans? Tennis or Broadway?
BK: You can’t compare!  There are cult followings in both.  I think tennis is more conducive to obsessively keeping track of what’s going on.  You can stalk Roddick or Sharapova (when healthy) year-round, whether live or on Tennis Channel.  DVR has ruined my life, especially during the Slams. (Even I struggle to watch 236 hours of tennis in a fortnight!)  I check the rankings and the scores on the Internet on a daily basis.    Broadway, on the other hand, is less accessible, especially if you aren’t rich and don’t live, say, on 44th and 8th in Manhattan.  I hardly ever see the same show twice.  But you can still go nuts playing the cast albums over and over or pretending you sing like Mandy Patinkin and look like Hugh Jackman in a dive karaoke bar.  Not that I’ve ever done that….

TSF: Riiight. Would a TV show like Glee ever work with a tennis theme? You know, something similar with bitchy teenage girls and a country club and the underprivileged underdog. Could it happen?!
BK: I think tennis is more conducive to something like Top Gun: fierce outdoor battles followed by steamy locker room scenes.  Glee is so delicious.  The Madonna episode?  Come on –  priceless.

TSF: Who is tennis’s Hal Prince?
BK: Billie Jean King.  She’s the grand dame of tennis.  I think she invented the sport.  I truly believe that women and girls could barely be seen on a tennis court before Billie. When she started the ladies’ tour her salary was one dollar.  She’s like  friggin’ Mother Teresa.

TSF: Love it! Well you slipped right into my next question: Who is Broadway’s Billie Jean King?
BK: Oops!  I guess it would be lame to say Hal Prince!  I’m going to say Stephen Sondheim.  He made it okay to talk about ordinary and contemporary topics (childhood, marriage, divorce) and in doing so has kept Broadway relevant for the past 40 years.

TSF: All right, the closing scene/question: Describe your perfect, all-inclusive tennis-and-Broadway day.
BK: I’d watch Jelena Dokic play Ana Ivanovic in Flushing Meadows and then go see Next to Normal.  A full day of basket cases.

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