If the idea of a musical about basketball seems like two things that don’t go together, you may be surprised when you hear the back story. Most Rockets fans by now are aware of Small Ball, the musical Rockets GM Daryl Morey is producing with Houston’s Catastrophic Theatre. What you might not know is how often basketball and the world of theater had to cross streams to make this happen.
The show, which opens this Friday night, may not have happened if not for a random Twitter question from a Rockets fan almost a decade ago. “I was doing Twitter Q and A and someone said, ‘What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you were doing?’” Morey recalls. “I said, ‘I’d run a theater.’” As it turns out, the Rockets GM is also a theater nerd.
Good thing then that Jason Nodler, known to many long-time users of the ClutchFans forums as “Batman Jones,” was paying attention. Nodler, who runs Catastrophic and has managed local theater groups in Houston nearly as long as he’s been a basketball fan, reached out to Morey. After attending a couple plays, Morey agreed to join the board of Catastrophic.
A few years later, Morey approached Nodler, who is directing the production with Tamarie Cooper, with an idea. “I said ‘I have an outline, but I’m not a very good writer and I don’t have time because of my job,’” Morey explains. “Jason suggested Mickle.”
That would be Mickle Maher, a well-respected playwright in Chicago who is a huge basketball fan himself. Maher immediately took over writing duties and put his own spin on the idea or, as Morey puts it, “He very smartly threw away the whole outline and came up with something way better.”
The story follows Michael Jordan (not that one), a journeyman who winds up on the island of Lilliput from Gulliver’s Travels trying to play with people who are only six inches tall. The entire musical is peppered with questions from reporters owing to Maher’s fascination with postgame press conferences after losses. The entire crew of Small Ball even attended a postgame presser at Toyota Center as preparation.
“[The concept] may sound crazy, and I’m pretty sure we’re breaking every rule of how to make musicals,” Morey says, “But it’s really genius.”
The opening, in the midst of the final week of the NBA season, seems to be perfect timing. With the Rockets running roughshod over much of the NBA this year and now a hoops musical produced locally by the GM of the team, it’s a good time to be a basketball fan in Houston.
“I’m just so excited,” Morey said. “The show is better than anything I could have ever imagined.”
Small Ball runs Thursdays through Sundays from April 6 until May 13 at MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit smallballmusical.com. Like all Catastrophic Theatre productions, the cost for each show is pay what you can.