Cover of  Baseball Saved Us  • Courtesy photo
Cover of Baseball Saved Us  written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee • Courtesy photo

It’s baseball season, and the 5th Avenue Theatre is joining in on the act. The 5th Avenue’s Adventure Musical Theatre department has teamed up with Ken Mochizuki to adapt his children’s book, Baseball Saved Us, into a stage musical for school-age audiences.

According to Mochizuki, this project began 15 years ago. “During late 2001, I was contacted by Bill Berry, then director of 5th Avenue’s Adventure Musical Theatre,” he said, and was excited by the prospect of turning his story, about a boy who turns his anger about his family’s oppression toward better performance on the baseball field, into a live show.

Anya Rudnick, Director of Education and Outreach for the 5th Avenue, reports that the theatre was equally enthused. “We were originally interested in Baseball Saved Us because it tells a story of an important period of history—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II—that has significance for the Northwest and Seattle in particular,” Rudnick said.

Beyond the story’s educational elements, the 5th Avenue was also compelled by its possibility for inspiration. “We were also drawn to the story because it is ultimately one of hope and the will to survive in the face of horrible oppression,” Rudnick said. The project commenced shortly afterward.

“I met with him and musical director Sterling Tinsley, who inquired if I’d be interested in writing the ‘Book,’ everything in the play that wasn’t music and lyrics,” Mochizuki said. “They also said they had a composer lined up, Bruce Monroe, who had written previous compositions for AMT.”

The team met on a monthly basis throughout 2002, and Mochizuki says he was impressed when he heard the final version of the music. “I got blown away!” he said. “The songs—and the entire show—could have easily morphed into a corny flag-waver, but, via the lyrics, Bruce maintained the edge and integrity of those who underwent the American forced confinement experience.”

Then rehearsals began in earnest in 2003. “Rehearsals lasted for about a month, and I attended most of them—writing more of the play and lots of rewriting while rehearsals continued, Mochizuki said. “Bruce had to do the same thing with the music.”

The 5th Avenue was pleased with Mochizuki’s continued participation in the project. “We had a wonderful collaboration with Ken,” Rudnick said. “In the first year, Ken was very involved in the creative process—even participated in casting the first production.”

Mochizuki remained engaged during the early performances of the show. “I attended early performances in which we tested out the show at elementary schools,” he said. “The production team noted what worked and what didn’t, then we went back to revising. I then attended a number of performances during the production’s initial 2003 run and witnessed overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic responses every time.”

The initial school tour was so successful that 5th Avenue AMT has produced two additional tours of the show, and has expanded performances to include community centers and libraries. Mochizuki continued to remain involved, attending the first non-school performance at the Seattle Public Library in 2005: “I never forget the conclusion of that performance, when the last piano chord was struck, the cast lined up for its curtain call, and the audience applauded for a long time!”

During the third and current tour of the show this year, AMT’s outreach has further broadened. “This year we did a performance at Nikkei Manor, an assisted living facility in Seattle’s International District,” Rudnick said.

Also, on May 9, a performance of Baseball Saved Us was included in the Wing Luke Museum’s Family Fun Saturday Series. According to Rudnick, this performance was accompanied by a reading by Mochizuki, art activities, and museum tours. School performances continue until May 22.

Mochizuki still remains inspired by this project. “Most rewarding is being witness to how a collaborative effort converted a vision into reality, from words on paper to spoken and sung onstage,” he said. “The show’s costume and set designers used color schemes similar to the original book’s illustrations, with the intent of those illustrations leaping off the page!”

AMT rotates its shows each year in order to provide fresh material to its young audiences, but there is always the possibility that Baseball Saved Us may return to the stage in five to eight years.

Mochizuki has no specific plans on the horizon, but he continues to imagine opportunities. “I entertain fantasies of it becoming a full-length, mainstage production,” he said. “Imagine that musical score being performed by a full orchestra!”

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