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Storied Era of Baseball, Jazz, and Integration Comes to Crossroads' Stage in Kansas City Swing

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 • 6:12pm

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – It’s the fall of 1947 in Kansas City. The Satchel Paige All-Stars of the Negro Leagues are gearing up to play the all-white Bob Feller All-Stars during the teams’ cross-country barnstorming tour. Jackie Robinson has recently broken baseball’s “color line.” Change is in the air – for baseball and for the country.

Against this backdrop, Kansas City Swing, a new play by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan, blends jazz, humor, legend, and lore to depict a sport and a nation in transition as the modern civil rights movement is beginning and integration starts to take hold. The legendary Paige, who would become major league baseball’s “oldest rookie” when he joined the St. Louis Browns in 1948, and Feller, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, barnstormed together with their teams in 1947. Baseball history buffs also will recognize Buck O’Neil, who would become the first black coach in the major leagues.

Directed by Khan, Kansas City Swing will have its professional premiere at Crossroads Theatre Company October 10 through October 27. Opening night is Saturday, October 12.

The play was given a production last spring at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where Khan is a visiting professor of theater. It was developed over three years at UMKC with the Negro Baseball Museum. Kansas City Swing looks at the nascent civil rights movement while also paying homage to Kansas City’s jazz heritage. Ellis and Khan also are the co-writers of FLY!, which recently was produced at Ford’s Theater in Washington and currently is running at the Cincinnati Playhouse.

As Khan noted in an interview last spring for UMKC, the playwrights sought to examine the impact of integration, both positive and negative.

“We worked hard at digging deeper than the more obvious issues of injustice to tackle the more complicated issues of the time,” Khan said. “Ironically, desegregation for some blacks was not the paradise they had envisioned. Yes, it provided tremendous opportunities for many but it also destroyed most all the small black businesses.”

The Negro baseball leagues would decline as well after Jackie Robinson paved the way for black ball players in the major leagues.

Jazz, however, is an enduring constant in the life of Kansas City, known as one of the nation’s “cradles of jazz.” It provides the rhythmic connection among themes in Kansas City Swing. The original music is composed by musician Bobby Watson, who also plays Jazz Man in the production.

In the cast are: Rob Karma Robinson as Satchel Paige; Kim Brockington as Mrs. Hopkins; Chris Kann as Bob Feller; Jacinto Taras Riddick as Buck O’Neill; Joe Sinopoli as Franky; Serge Thony as Art; and Katherine Wood as Moira Hopkins.

Playwright Trey Ellis also is a novelist, screenwriter, essayist and associate professor in the Graduate School of the Arts at Columbia University. His novels include the American Book Award winner, “Right Here, Right Now,” and his screen work includes the Emmy-nominated HBO film, “The Tuskegee Airmen.” Ellis also is a longtime political blogger on Huffington Post.

Khan is the co-founder of Crossroads Theatre Company, which, in 1999, became the first black theater to receive the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater in America. During his 20 years at Crossroads, he nurtured countless new works that have enriched the canon of American theater. He has directed at major theaters around the country and is currently artist-in residence at Lincoln Center.

Founded in 1978, Crossroads’ mission is to create and present professional theater of the highest standards of artistic excellence that celebrates the culture, history, spirit, and voices of the entire African Diaspora.

Crossroads Theatre Company is located at 7 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick. For information, visit crossroadstheatrecompany.org, call (732) 545-8100, or send email to membership@crossroadstheatrecompany.org.

Schedule & Ticket information:

Thursday October 10  and Friday October 11        8pm     Preview           $40     

Saturday October 12          8pm     Opening          $65     

Sunday October 13              3pm                             $50

Wednesday October 16       10am   School show    $40

Thursday October 17  and Friday October 18         8pm                             $50 

Saturday October 19th           3pm     and 8pm        $50   

Sunday October 20th              3pm                             $50

Wednesday October 23rd       10am   School show    $40

Thursday October 24th  and Friday October 25        8pm                             $50

Saturday October 26th           3pm       and 8pm      $50

Saturday October 26th           8pm                             $50     

Sunday October 27th              3pm                             $50

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