When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 breaking a 108-year drought, even those only marginally interested in baseball got on the bandwagon and joined in the season-long excitement.
Now that excitement is being re-visited on stage in a new musical produced by William Marovitz, himself a unique mix of diehard baseball fan (Cubs and White Sox) and lover of musical theater.
As an Illinois state senator representing Wrigleyville, he was involved in helping forge a compromise that allowed the installation of lights at Wrigley Field. On the musical theater front, he has invested in several Broadway shows including the current production of “Tootsie.”
So it’s really no surprise that Marovitz is the producer, along with Arny Granat, of “Miracle,” a musical that tells the story of a Chicago working-class family set against that 2016 season.
The genesis of “Miracle” came out of another show Marovitz had been contemplating, “The Chicago Story: From Daley to Daley,” which covered a lot of ground and proved to be untenable.
“It was about everything that happened from Richard J. to Richard M. but not just politics,” Marovitz says. “There was the Bears’ Super Bowl, the Bulls’ dynasty, the expansion of the West Side, Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, Fast Eddie [Vrdolyak]. But the script and the music never came together.”
Surprisingly, Marovitz says the idea for “Miracle” began to germinate even before the 2016 Chicago Cubs season began. In February of that year, he and his creative team at the time began to work on “the idea of a show about the Cubs’ season as seen through the eyes of a typical Chicago working class family comprised of generations of fans,” he says.
As the season unfolded and Marovitz realized he’d been handed the perfect setting on which to hang a musical, he upped his game and last fall hired what he refers to as the “major league team” of Jason Brett (book), Michael Mahler (music and lyrics) and director Damon Kiely.
What evolved over the last eight months is a show not about balls and strikes but one about a family losing faith and regaining it, all set against the Cubs’ winning season.
The setting is an old-school neighborhood Cubs bar, the sort that has pretty much disappeared around Wrigley Field. It’s run by the close-knit Delaney family — Pops (Gene Weygandt) who has an unshakable belief that things will work out, and his son Charlie (Brandon Dahlquist) who had hopes of playing major league ball but must instead help keep the family business going. Charlie’s 11-year-old daughter Dani (Amaris Sanchez and Elise Wolf share the role) loves the Cubs to distraction, and his wife Sofia (Allison Sill) is the glue that holds the family together.
The family story runs parallel to the Cubs’ season, which audiences will re-live via video screens situated above the bar. Marovitz worked with Cubs management and Major League Baseball to acquire video footage from season and post-season play as well as the celebratory parade after the World Series win.
“I have to give them kudos,” he says. “They were unbelievably cooperative in getting us what we needed.”
Adds Kiely: “It’s an exciting challenge to create these moments where we have this interaction between actors, singing, dancing and video to tell this family/baseball story.”
Kiely feels Mahler, a Jeff Award-winning composer/lyricist, is a key component in making the show resonate with Chicagoans.
“The score feels very Chicago to me and is chock-full of hummable, memorable tunes,” Kiely says. The show opens with a blues song called “Cubby Bear Blues.” “It evokes the beautiful pain of being a Cubs fan forever and ever,” Kiely says laughing.
When approached about joining the project, Mahler says he wasn’t interested “in doing a ‘Damn Yankees’ kind of thing,” but the original story won him over.
“Instead of focusing on the Cubs, it was focused more on the people who root for them and are inspired by them and how their lives are impacted,” Mahler says. “It’s a story with big emotions and it felt like songs were necessary. That it could be a musical and not simply a play.”
Mahler, who grew up in Minnesota as a Twins fan, did face one big challenge he had never before faced in his many years of musical theater.
“I had to learn a lot of Cubs history very quickly,” he says, laughing. “But Bill and Damon caught me up to speed. They helped me with the ‘Cubness’ of the show and I was able to help them with the musicalness of it.”
As for the underlying message of “Miracle,” Mahler says it’s an important one.
“I think what the Cubs taught us is that in order to really do something and move forward and really win, we have to work together as a team and use everybody’s strengths.
“This show is more than just a chance to remember the Cubs season. It’s a chance to look at what’s important in life and the connections we make with our own teams — family, work, friends — and realize that none of us can do it on our own.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.