Considering our enthusiasm for spectator sports – whether measured in dollars or in time spent sitting in stadium seats or in front of a TV screen – it seems inexplicable that American culture still hasn’t been wholly infected with the rest of the world’s long-established passion for soccer (or football, as it’s known in the remnants of the British empire). We may have turned the corner when the word “vuvuzela” entered the popular lexicon, around the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa. Nowadays more and more US schools and communities host their own soccer teams; but we still have an awful lot of catching up to do.
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, a summer resort on the outskirts of Kingston known as Oehler’s Mountain Lodge was a sort of low-key incubator for American interest in the sport. It hosted one of the country’s first official soccer fields, and countless European, South American and local footballers played on the site. A little yellow house still standing on the property was actually an old official’s booth. In the 1970s the former Lodge became the first home for the Creative Music Studio, which later moved to Woodstock, and the New York Conservatory of the Arts (NYCA) set up operations at the Hurley site in 1986. But had you taken a photo of that soccer pitch back in the day, you might have caught the great Pelé himself in action.
That factoid furnishes a fascinating connection to NYCA’s next stage production, opening this weekend. Pelé’s autobiography, titled My Life and the Beautiful Game, inspired the original title of a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton that never quite made it to Broadway and has pretty much slipped off the theatrical radar in recent years. Premiering in London’s Cambridge Theatre in September 2000, The Beautiful Game got mixed reviews and was rewritten with a more upbeat ending as The Boys in the Photograph, which opened in Winnipeg in October 2009.
Set in Belfast at the dawn of the 1970s, the drama concerns the members of a Catholic-sponsored youth soccer team who are trying, with varying degrees of success, to pursue romance and sporting glory amidst the violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. Patriotic and religious fervor contends with the desire for a peaceful life, pulling the erstwhile teammates in various directions, with sometimes-tragic results.
After being yanked from the musical lineup of the original production, “Our Kind of Love,” a song celebrating the ability of romantic love to transcend artificial social barriers, eventually ended up a hit number in Love Never Dies, Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. Another anthem that did make the cut for the rewrite, “Let Us Love in Peace,” has taken on a life of its own, having been performed as the closing song of the October 2001 memorial service at Ground Zero for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
The NYCA Cabaret Theatre Company production of The Boys in the Photograph opens at the Cabaret in Hurley this Friday, January 17 and runs through Sunday, January 26, with performances beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinées at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $18 general admission, $15 for students and senior citizens, plus a $2 “convenience charge” for all tickets ordered by phone or with a credit card. To order or for more information, call (845) 339-4340 or visit www.nyca.org.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Boys in the Photograph, January 17-26, Friday/Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m., $18/$15, NYCA Cabaret Theatre, 120 Schildknecht Road, Hurley; (845) 339-4340, www.nyca.org.