Morey Produces Musical

Rockets GM and Houston dream team stage a madcap basketball musical

The Lilliputians contemplate "Sex With Giants.” Photo by Anthony Rathbun

Originally appeared on CultureMap


Michael Jordan has an assist problem. Not the NBA legend, but a Michael Jordan — a mediocre journeyman point guard, who has managed to even wash out of the Icelandic Dominos (as in pizza) League.

Jordan has now washed ashore on a much more exotic land, the recently-discovered-to-be-real Lilliput. Will the six-foot-plus Jordan learn to pass the ball to his six-inch teammates, and therefore assist the island nation–from Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century satiric masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels–in gaining respect from the rest of normal-sized humanity? Such is the dilemma in Small Ball the delightfully deranged world premiere musical from Catastrophic Theatre.

Produced and commissioned by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, Small Ball has garnered much early media attention as probably the first basketball musical ever. Yet, with book and lyrics by playwright Mickle Maher, a Catastrophic favorite, music by Meryl van Dijk and Tony Barilla and as directed by company co-founders, Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper, I’d argue for also categorizing the strange, wondrous and very funny show as perhaps the first full court pressing absurdest musical. 

Maher does bring sports and sportscasting satire to the show, though much more gently than Swift’s swipes at the politics of his time. But from its lovely and poignant first song “First You Lose” to its funny yet weirdly wise finale “Don’t Drown,” Small Ball goes beyond comedy and basketball to present a melodic questioning of the nature of reality, storytelling and the meaning of our bizarre existence, no matter what our size.

A different kind of musical
Don’t expect elaborate dance numbers on a basketball court stage, as Maher sets most of the scenes during pre and post-game press conferences. Two sports reporters (Tamarie Cooper and Jeff Miller) spend the entire show in the audience asking questions, including the difference between “the” and “a” Michael Jordan. Above all, they probe to find out why Jordan (Orlanders Tao Jones) refuses to pass the ball to his tiny teammates. Is it a salary dispute? Is he afraid he’ll crush the other players? Or is Jordan having a much more existential dilemma about moving and playing in this game of life, especially on a team named the Lilliputian Existers?

Just as frustrated and demanding of answers is coach Phil Jackson (Rodrick Randall), the former Lilliputian emperor, now president-elect. It seems both rudimentary democracy, basketball and rats have arrived on Lilliput as imports from the outside, averaged-sized world.

Jackson is later joined at the table by the admittedly-villainous assistant coach, Pippin (Seán Patrick Judge), players Bird (Candice D’Meza) and Magic (Greg Cote) and the team’s director of analytics, Horton (Angela Pinina), who is also Jackson’s wife. We later meet the Existers real star player, Lilli (Julia Krohn), Jackson and Horton’s daughter and therefore the former-princess. Another cause of their losing streak might stem from their lack of a fifth player, since Lilliputian culture doesn’t have a concept of the number five.

A dream team
As crazy as this set up might sound, the slam dunking performances by the cast make the concepts both plausible and outlandish at the same time, which seem to be Maher and directors Nodler and Cooper objective in surrealistic world-building. On the beach of Lilliput everyone wrestles with insomnia while living in a dream-like state under the constant camera lights.

D’Meza and Cote are all in as reluctant players. Randall makes a good case that many coaches are likely melodramatic ex-emperors at heart, and Pinina gives Horton a complexity in all the chaos as both mathematician and understandably pissed off wife. Krohn plays Lilli as a powerhouse princess who won’t take shit, even while falling in love.

While I’m certain Judge in reality is not as gleefully demented as Pippin, he does reveal himself a skilled scene kleptomaniac. This isn’t really the kind of show that includes a show-stopping number, but Judge’s rendition of the hilarious yet somehow nuanced “Sex With Giants” comes close.

Finally, I’ve caught other Jones performances around town in the past, but I won’t sing praises for his performance as Jordan, only because I’m afraid he’ll soon take his stage presence and glorious voice to larger theatric pastures. So let’s give him lots of roles and try to keep him a Houston secret a little while longer.

Musical fantasy
Helping keep the cast afloat in this ocean dream is Meryl van Dijk and Tony Barilla’s sweet and sometimes melancholy score. Barilla also leads the fine orchestra behind the set backdrop depicting the Lilliputian sea and sky.

Like the whole concept of tiny, fantastical people playing basketball, Small Ball, the musical is so out there, it probably shouldn’t even exist. And perhaps it doesn’t. Maybe Houston is just having a mass theatrical waking dream about the general manager of the Rockets teaming up with our local avant garde theater company to produce a musical about Swift’s Lilliput becoming corporeal, putting together a basketball team and recruiting a Michael Jordan to lead them. If such is the case, I say: dream and play on.


Small Ball runs through May 13 at the MATCH.

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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.

Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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