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Lifestyle

January 29, 2014

Newlyweds tackle playing Yankee icons on Broadway

NEW YORK — After marrying this summer, Peter Scolari and Tracy Shayne skipped the honeymoon to somewhere exotic like Fiji or the Seychelles. They’ve gone nowhere.

The two veteran actors chose Broadway stage work over sandy beaches and these days find themselves backstage in the comfy — yet industrial-looking — Circle in the Square Theatre.

“Sorry about that, honey,” says Scolari to his bride as they sit in plastic chairs in her dressing room as he sips soup on a freezing day. “It’s the best I could do.”

Shayne takes in the fluorescent bulbs overhead and gray cinderblocks that bring to mind a medium-level lockup. “Well, who could ask for anything more?” she asks, cheerfully. “This is wonderful.”

They are sharing a stage for the first time — in the role of husband and wife — in “Bronx Bombers,” which examines the rich history of the New York Yankees.

Scolari, 58, plays Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra while Shayne plays Berra’s spouse, Carmen. Scolari and Shayne are in three of the play’s four scenes together and seem to be elevating each other’s game.

“He’s really such a master and so I feel like I’m learning a lot. He’s helped me to rise to a new level,” says Shayne, 56, a veteran of “A Chorus Line,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and “Chicago.”

“Oh, I’m not sure about that,” says Scolari, who has been on Broadway in “Hairspray” and opposite his old “Bosom Buddies” co-star Tom Hanks in “Lucky Guy.”

“No, it’s true,” his wife insists. “And I think I’ve helped him, too.”

The couple met nine years ago at Alcoholics Anonymous. They make their home in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side near Lincoln Center. It’s small — only a little more than 500 square feet — but they have figured out how to do it. One will wear headphones to watch TV while the other is reading. Scolari, married twice before, is generous with foot rubs. Shayne, married once before, walks on his back every night.

“We just make it work,” she says. “The fact that we’re together a lot is wonderful. I don’t need to be apart. I’ve waited so long for this.”

“Bronx Bombers” is the third sports-related play to make it to Broadway from producing team Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, following “Lombardi,” about football icon Vince Lombardi, and “Magic/Bird,” about the friendship between basketball legends Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.

Scolari, who plays the father of Lena Dunham’s character on HBO’s “Girls,” was in “Magic/Bird” and friendly with the producers. He urged them to check out his soon-to-be wife in “Chicago,” where she was a steamy Roxie.

The producers then came up with the idea of Scolari and Shayne jumping aboard “Bronx Bombers” when it made the leap to Broadway following an off-Broadway tryout. Writer and director Eric Simonson signed off after Shayne auditioned.

The couple also had to audition, in a way, for the real Berras, which they did one day during a visit to the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center at Montclair State University. They went seeking approval from the Berras.

Carmen Berra, 84, looked Shayne up and down. “This is what she said, ‘Oh, my God. You’re me 50 years ago!’ I went, ‘Well, no. I’m a little bit older than you think,”’ Shayne says. “She just had this beautiful smile on her face the whole evening.”

Scolari’s meeting with 88-year-old Yogi was more complex, in part because the actor as a boy had idolized Berra and watched him play at Yankee Stadium. Scolari says Berra has a “beautiful soul.”

“I began to see this man not only as an iconic athlete but as a deeply moving, charming, beguiling human being,” he says. “I feel this incredible obligation to pay homage to that in my portrayal.”

To play the Berras, the acting couple may have had to ditch a honeymoon, but flying somewhere is always stressful for the bride, who holds strangers’ hands on airplanes if her husband isn’t there.

“If you take me somewhere, I’ll love it. If you don’t, I’ll love it as long as we’re together,” she tells Scolari. “I really do feel that way. I’m just so glad that we’re married and we’re together. It’s good.”

 

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