AT LACMA Fri 4.17.2015

Top Five Plays From Last Night’s Major League Live Read

We’re just a few weeks into the 2015 MLB season, but last night at Film Independent at LACMA, the Live Read series went into extra innings.

Film Independent announced months ago that we’d be adding a special bonus Live Read to the lineup, with Magic Mike and True Blood star Joe Manganiello taking over directing duties from series creator Jason Reitman. The 1989 baseball comedy Major League proved the perfect way to ring in one season and cap off another.

Here’s a rundown of the top five “plays” from last night’s event.

Rich Eisen’s Play-By-Play Stage Directions
Initially it seemed Eisen, the former SportsCenter anchor and current face of the NFL Network, would be the perfect choice to call the games as the iconic sportscaster Harry Doyle (the role originated by Milwaukee Brewers play-by-play man Bob Uecker). Instead, Manganiello turned to comedian Thomas Lennon of Reno 911 fame to play Doyle and, in a departure from Live Read tradition, slid himself into the role of the romantic lead Jake Taylor, making room for Eisen to read the stage directions.

The move paid off, as Eisen’s baseball acumen, reliable delivery and flair for the big moment all came into play while reading David S. Ward’s script. The audience broke into applause every time he finished a rapid-fire montage and Eisen ramped up the energy as the film reached its memorable climax.

As the final game headed for extra innings, the mics went dead, but Eisen didn’t even pause. He just raised his volume a few notches and easily reached the back of the room. In a particularly dramatic moment, the mics kicked back in and Eisen’s words reverberated around the theater. The audience screamed and plugged their ears. When the feedback died down, Eisen whispered into the mic: “This is awesome.” Then he launched right back into the action.

Manganiello’s Genius Casting
The casting choice Manganiello said he was most proud of was picking co-host of The Talk and first lady of rock Sharon Osbourne to play malevolent Indians owner Rachel Phelps, the former showgirl, desperate to field a losing team and get out of Cleveland. Osbourne acquitted herself nicely, but was even better playing the sultry Suzanne Dorn, jilted wife of silver-spoon-fed third baseman Roger Dorn (played with whimpering brilliance by Rob Huebel). Her seduction of rookie pitcher Ricky Vaughn had the crowd in stitches.

To play Vaughn, the role originated by Charlie Sheen, and known by many only as “Wild Thing,” Manganiello called on a man with real life experience, not only throwing a mean fastball, but also setting grooming trends. Former Dodger’s ace Brian “The Beard” Wilson came dressed for the part, sauntering out on stage in a full Cleveland Indians uniform, complete with Vaughn’s number 99 and signature thick-rimmed glasses.

Film Independent At LACMA Live Read Of "Major League"But the crowd really erupted when Manganiello announced who would read heavy hitter and voodoo practitioner Pedro Cerrano, originally played by Dennis Haysbert. Manganiello’s fiancé, actress Sofia Vergara did not disappoint. When Eisen introduced the character as “a tall,muscular latin man,” the Modern Family star raised a flexed bicep. While she cracked an occasional smile at the screenplay’s description of Cerrano’s voodoo antics, she delivered each of his lines—from the first, “Hat for Bat” to the last “I say fuck you, Joboo!”–with remarkable solemnity. The lines were few and far between, but the audience savored every one.

Costumes, Props, and Miming the Action
Wilson wasn’t the only performer who came ready to play. Manganiello came out wearing a Wild Thing t-shirt and Robbie Jones, playing the role of Willie Mays Hayes, brought his own gloves for the occasion. Louisville Slugger even provided custom-made bats for the event.

Manganiello, Wilson and Jones really got into it in the script’s final act, the one-game playoff against the Yankees for first place in the league. Manganiello gave the signals between his legs. Wilson nodded and shook his head accordingly. When Eisen read the instruction “Everything from here on will continue to be in slow motion,” Manganiello and Wilson obliged, stretching their legs as they slid into home and even improvising a Dirty Dancing-inspired lift in the script’s exultant ending.

Ward’s Odd Original Ending
And about that ending…

Screenwriter and director David. S. Ward was in attendance for the event. Manganiello was excited to have him, because they were going to read a version of the script with an alternate ending that was cut from the final film. There were several differences between the script and the film—an added reversal in the romance between Taylor and Lynn Wells (Ming-Na Wen playing the role that made Rene Russo a star) and even a scene in which he shows up at the church to stop her wedding—but the one he was alluding to must have been the late twist revealing that Phelps, the team’s evil owner, wasn’t so evil after all. In fact, the whole tanking scheme turned out to be just a motivational tool and a way to cut down on expenses.

The twist undercuts the whole conceit of the film, and quite frankly doesn’t make any sense. Even Osbourne seemed confused at how best to play the line, “I love this team!” It’s no wonder Hollywood opted to keep Phelps on the losing side.

Lennon’s Uecker Tribute
As with any Live Read, the night’s most satisfying moments were reveling in the glory of iconic lines from your favorite films.

In Film Independent Curator Elvis Mitchell’s introduction, he quoted Uecker’s line from the original, “He tracked the corner and missed.” The line, however, never made it into the night’s proceedings. It was one of many bits of color improvised by Uecker for the movie. Credit should be given to Lennon for working one of those lines back in.

After Eisen described a Vaughn pitch that was particularly high and outside the strike zone, Lennon interrupted: “And it’s not in the script because Bob Euker improvised it,” and then he said those immortal words that every fan in attendance had been waiting to hear: “Juuust a bit outside.”

Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger

Film Independent At LACMA Live Read Of "Major League"

The Full Cast
Joe Manganiello as Jake Taylor, originally played by Tom Berenger
Ming-Na Wen as Lynn Wells, originally played by Rene Russo
Robbie Jones as Willie Mays Hayes, originally played by Wesley Snipes
Sharon Osbourne as Rachel Phelps, originally played by Margaret Whitton
Eric Stonestreet as Charlie Donovan/Eddie Harris, originally played by Charles Cyphers/Chelcie Ross
Billy Gardell as Lou Brown, originally played by James Gammon
Thomas Lennon as Harry Doyle, originally played by Bob Uecker
Brian Wilson as Ricky Vaughn, originally played by Charlie Sheen
Rob Huebel as Roger Dorn, originally played by Corbin Bernsen
Rich Eisen read Stage Directions
Sofia Vergara as Pedro Cerrano, originally played by Dennis Haysbert