A traveling play about Jackie Robinson is coming to Cal Poly’s Performing Art’s Center this Friday. The play about major league baseball’s most ground breaking player is aptly named “Most Valuable Player” and spans from 1935 to 1949.
Between those dates Robinson played for UCLA where he lettered in four different sports, played semi-professional football, joined the Army and got married. He did all this before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 and being name the National Leagues MVP in 1949.
“Student’s here don’t remember a time when there weren’t black players in Major League Baseball so it’s interesting from a sociological perspective,” Cal Poly Arts Director Steven Lerian said. “Since it’s Martin Luther King weekend, I think it has a lot of relevance in that, too.”
The show covers topics like the pressure Robinson faced being the first man to break the “color barrier” in the major leagues. Most of the play spans his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and outlines his own personal sacrifices, and how he dealt with racism among his teammates and from fans.
“People have asked me if now that Barack Obama is president, do I think this show is still relevant. Of course,” Sally Fiorello, the show’s producer and tour director, said. “People don’t realize what a big part of the civil rights movement [Robinson] was. Without him, we might not have an Obama.”
For those who are not baseball fans, Fiorello said that “Most Valuable Player” is still a show that they can get something out of.
Across the stage, there is chain-linked fencing and a series of platforms. There is a large screen where pictures are projected throughout the show. The pictures start with modern day black athletes to give a perspective as to how far the United States has come as a society and then gradually takes the audience back to the ball parks of the 1940’s. There are also photos of old radios, soldiers and other prominent things of that time period. They’re accompanied by a soundtrack full of hit songs of the time and even a little country music to signify Robinson’s time in the South.
The show stars Rick Spivey as Robinson, Charles Roach as Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, and was directed by Andy Long.
Long, who is a “huge” baseball fan, took time to work with the cast to get the game scenes right.
“People who watch this show who like baseball will know if the actors have any idea what they’re doing,” Fiorello said. “Andy really tried to bring a reality to the play, even in actors who really didn’t know.”
“Most Valuable Player,” presented by Dallas Children’s Theater, has shown at other universities nation-wide including Mississippi State and Saint John’s University. The show begins at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Cohen Performing Arts Center. Ticket prices are available online and there will also be student rush tickets available at a discounted price at 6 p.m. at the door. Rush tickets are only available to Cal Poly students and children.