‘Pinch Hitter’ a natural for Heritage Square

Posted 4/30/10

There are a few secrets behind Annie Dwyer’s famous bubble gum aerobics. They — and Dwyer’s accompanying bleach-blond 1930s floozy — are …

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‘Pinch Hitter’ a natural for Heritage Square


There are a few secrets behind Annie Dwyer’s famous bubble gum aerobics.

They — and Dwyer’s accompanying bleach-blond 1930s floozy — are among the all-stars in “The Pinch Hitter,” the latest ballpark farce to touch comic bases at Heritage Square Music Hall.

The Colorado Rockies are having a so-so season, but Heritage Square in Golden has been hitting balls into the stands — Nerf balls, to avoid audience head trauma — in a musical send-up of America’s greatest pastime.

But back to Dwyer and her prowess with sugary pink chewables. This comic actress can blow bubbles the size of baseball mitts, create bubbles inside of bubbles and literally lasso the front row with her 12-piece bubble-gum amalgam.

During the opening sequence, Dwyer juggles her gum, popcorn and a beer in ways that may defy physics as much as conventional sanitary practices.

Contrary to popular assumption, the gum skills were not born of a misspent youth, but of Dwyer’s dedication to craft. Practice upon practice and an exacting gum recipe blow sugary dimension into Angora LaRue, Dwyer’s ditzy, squeaky-voiced gangster moll.

For the gum-curious, Dwyer’s bubble-potent cocktail calls for four Double Bubbles, three Bazookas, one Hubba Bubba, one Bubblicious, a sugar-free Bubble Yum, a Stride and a Trident.

“It’s important. You don’t mess with the gum,” the bubbly actress makes clear.

Much the same tried and true dictate can be applied to the Heritage Square formula. For 37 years, T.J. Mullin’s talented troupe of comic singers and actors has entertained audiences with an agreeable blend of music, comedy and audience participation.

While other dinner theaters have favored a revolving door of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Oklahoma,” Mullin has kept to what he and his long-standing cast do best — thematic musical comedies and comic adaptations of “Dracula,” “Phantom of the Opera” and other overblown fare prone to parody.

“The Pinch Hitter,” with its old-time salute to minor-league baseball and good-natured Americana, falls in the former category.

Straight-faced Mullin plays Harry Bordello, a small-time hood who ineptly kidnaps a small-time baseball star Swat Armstrong (Rory Pierce) to ensure a winning bet on the upcoming big game.

Mullin’s deadpan delivery and expert malapropisms are the perfect foil to Dwyer’s lovable gum-chewing pinhead and Pierce’s wide-eyed, ever-so-gullible slugger.

Alex Crawford, one of Heritage Square’s most notable long-time support players, is cast here as Vinnie, Mullin’s right-hand goon — a sidekick whose literal reading of Harry’s orders make his boss seem the criminal genius by comparison.

As entertaining as it is, the light script and broadly drawn characters are not really the point. That happens when the cast breaks down the theater’s fourth wall and ad-libs, interacts, teases — or in the case of Dwyer, playfully flirts — with the crowd.

A warning … One false move by an audience member can land him smack dab in the plot. Or in the case of this writer’s son, a third-grader can be coaxed to pitch a few balls to center stage.

“The audience is a character in the play,” Mullin explained after the show. “During the baseball game, they’re the people out in the field, for example.”

Dwyer’s character trades ad-libs with the audience during a memorable 10-minute bubble gum interlude, a diversion that sees Angora take gum solos of near-epic proportion.

None of this is to say Mullin’s team has complete license to play on foul balls.

“When we break from lines, we try to do it only in character, and try to keep away from contemporary references,” Mullin said. “We’re not doing Pulitzer Prize-winning plays here, but we do have a story to get back to.”

Dwyer says it’s not always easy to walk that fine line between comic genius and self-indulgence

“[Mullins] never makes you feel bad,” the 20-year Heritage Square veteran said of her boss. “He stays in character and guides you back, gently.”

Call her a diva if you will, but somebody — and no one will say who — reportedly chews the sugar out of Dwyer’s gum before the stage veteran puts it between the cheeks. (The gum is run through a pre-show sanitization process, they say.)

Gross? Well, think about the calories of chewing gum, constantly, for five shows a week, and you may understand Dwyer’s — not her character’s — motivation.

“The Pinch Hitter” is not quite a hard-boiled sports drama, but it is more than OK for the whole family. It also meets the minimum daily allowance for baseball jokes — and is not too sugary sweet.

If you go

“The Pinch Hitter” plays at Heritage Square Music Hall in Golden through May 23.

Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday afternoons and select Wednesday and Thursday nights. Dinner is for purchase. Show-only tickets are also available.

Tickets available by calling 303-279-7800. Visit hsmusichall.com for more information.


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