Overview

The Summer King tells the story of Negro Leagues baseball legend Josh Gibson, considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. It’s a story of talent, heartbreak and one man’s journey to overcome prejudice and discrimination. MOT is proud to present this groundbreaking new work co-produced with the Pittsburgh Opera.

Stephen Lord – “Detroit is such a great sports town. It was home to one of the original Negro National League teams and a place where Josh Gibson played in the visiting dugout. His inspirational story just begs to be told as an opera.”

Music by Daniel Sonenberg
Libretto by Daniel Sonenberg and Daniel Nester, with additional lyrics by Mark Campbell

Running time: Approximately two hours, 12 minutes, with one intermission.

Bravo playbill

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Artists

Lester Lynch

Josh Gibson

Baritone Lester Lynch makes his return to Michigan Opera Theatre starring as Josh Gibson in The Summer King. He is the second singer to perform the role since its Pittsburgh Opera premiere in April, 2017. Lester previously performed with MOT in its 2003 production of A Masked Ball as Renato. Recognized for his charismatic portrayals and commanding voice, Lester is receiving rave reviews as he tackles some of Verdi’s most important baritone roles from Scarpia to Rigoletto to Count di Luna. Highlights of recent engagements include the title role in Rigoletto with the Canadian Opera Company, Gerald in Andrea Chénier with the Bregenzer Festspiele festival, Carbon in Cyrano de Bergerac with San Francisco Opera, Herald in Lohengrin with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Porgy in Porgy and Bess with Washington National Opera, and Scarpia in Tosca with the Glimmerglass Festival. Additional engagements include leading roles with Opera Philadelphia, Los Angeles Opera, and with the Cleveland Orchestra, Master Chorale of Washington, Nashville Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and in concert at Carnegie Hall.

Lester Lynch

Josh Gibson

Deborah Nansteel

Grace

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel recently made her Michigan Opera Theatre début as La Duegne in Cyrano and returns this season to portray the role of Grace in The Summer King. Some highlights from Ms. Nansteel’s career include her Lyric Opera of Chicago début as Gertrude in Roméo et Juliette, a world-première performance of Douglas Pew and Dara Weinberg’s new opera Penny with Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative and the creation of the role of Lucinda in the highly-anticipated world première of the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s adaptation of Cold Mountain at Santa Fe Opera, which she reprises this season with North Carolina Opera. Ms. Nansteel is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where she earned an Artist Diploma in Opera and a Master of Music in Voice. This season, Ms. Nansteel returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago as Siegrune in Die Walküre and sings the role of Alisa in Lucia di Lammermoor with The Metropolitan Opera.

Deborah Nansteel

Grace

Kenneth Kellogg

Sam Bankhead

Washington D.C. bass Kenneth Kellogg makes his Michigan Opera Theatre debut as Count Montenero in Rigoletto. He will reprise the role of Sam Bankhead in The Summer King, which he originated with Pittsburgh Opera in 2017. Performance highlights include Zuniga in Carmen and Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte with Washington National Opera; Mefistofeles in Faust and Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte with Opera de Lausanne; Gremin in Eugene Onegin with North Carolina Opera and Young Emile Griffith in Terence Blanchard’s Champion with Opera Parallèle. He holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Music degree from Ohio University. He has also served as a resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and is an alumnus of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. Future performances include Handel’s Messiah with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte with the National Philharmonic at Strathmore.

Kenneth Kellogg

Sam Bankhead

Sean Panikkar

Wendell Smith

American tenor Sean Panikkar returns to Michigan Opera Theatre as Wendell Smith in The Summer King, a role he originated with Pittsburgh Opera at its 2017 world premiere. He previously performed with MOT as Rodolfo in 2015’s La bohème. Performance highlights include Rodolfe in Guillaume Tell with the Metropolitan Opera, Shalimar in Shalimar the Clown with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Rodolfo at Royal Albert Hall, Adam in CO2 with Teatro alla Scala and Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles with Pittsburgh Opera. He holds a master’s and bachelor’s degree in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan and is an alumnus of San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship and the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artists Studio. Mr. Panikkar will perform Dionysus in The Bassarids for his debut at the Salzburg Festival in 2018.

Sean Panikkar

Wendell Smith

Jacqueline Echols

Helen Gibson

A native of Detroit, lyric soprano Jacqueline Echols has been praised for her “dynamic range and vocal acrobatics” by Classical Voice in theaters across the United States. When she debuted as Pip in Moby Dick with the Los Angeles Opera, her performance was described by Opera Today as having “soared gracefully over Heggie’s orchestra, soloists and chorus.” Recently, Jacqueline made her debut with the Boston Symphony at the 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival as Woglinde in Das Rheingold. A graduate of the Young Artists Program with the Washington National Opera, Jacqueline has performed with the organization as Micaëla in Carmen, Woglinde and Forest Bird in the full Ring Cycle, as the Unicorn in the world premiere of Jeanine Tesori’s The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me, and Clorinda in La Cenerentola. Jacqueline will once again take the stage as Pip in Moby Dick with the Pittsburgh Opera. She will also be performing as Gilda in the North Carolina Opera’s production of Rigoletto.

Jacqueline Echols

Helen Gibson

Norman Shankle

Elder Barber & Gus Greenlee

Tenor Norman Shankle made his Michigan Opera Theatre début as Tamino in The Magic Flute and will be returning this season for the role of Elder Barber/Gus Greenlee in The Summer King, a role he recently originated in the world première with Pittsburgh Opera. Mr. Shankle’s career highlights include his Dallas Opera house début as Ernesto in Don Pasquale; participation in The Metropolitan Opera’s productions of The Enchanted Island and Parsifal; Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia with English National Opera, and Dresden Semperoper; and the title role in Idomeneo and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni with Staatstheater Stuttgart, Arena Opera Festival in Verona, and Teatro Municipale Reggio Emilia. Mr. Shankle began his career with San Francisco Opera in their Merola Opera Program and as an Adler Fellow. This season, Mr. Shankle will perform the tenor solo in Handel’s Messiah with Baltimore Symphony, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and National Philharmonic, where he will subsequently sing the role of Ferrando in Così fan tutte.

Norman Shankle

Elder Barber & Gus Greenlee

Phillip Gay

Young Barber, Cool Papa Bell

American bass-baritone Phillip Gay is an alumnus of the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Program, the Glimmerglass Young Artists Program, and a District Winner in the 2014 and 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

A native of Beaumont, Texas, Mr. Gay received his B.M. in Vocal Performance from Lamar University, and his M.M. in Vocal Performance from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Recent engagements include Cool Papa Bell THE SUMMER KING for Pittsburgh Opera and the basketball opera BOUNCE with the University of Kentucky. Highlights include Zuniga CARMEN with St. Petersburg Opera, Colline LA BOHÈME with Syracuse Opera, Hortensius DAUGHTER OF REGIMENT with Intermountain Opera, and Seneca L’INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA with New York Lyric Opera Theatre. Other roles include Lodovico OTELLO, Garibaldo RODELINDA, King AIDA, Sparafucile RIGOLETTO, Don Quixote MAN OF LA MANCHA, Balthazar AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS, Silvano LA CALISTO, and bass soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with the Erie Philharmonic.

Phillip Gay

Young Barber, Cool Papa Bell

Raymond Very

Radio Announcer, Clark Griffin, Branch Rickey

Raymond Very has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, San Diego Opera, Seattle Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Washington National Opera, New York City Opera, Tulsa Opera, Opera Omaha, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Portland Opera, Washington Summer Opera, and Pittsburgh Opera as well as with the Royal Opera Covent Garden in London, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Maggio Musicale in Florence, the Salzburg Festival, Wiener Staatsoper and Theater an der Wien, Norwegian Opera in Oslo, Oper Frankfurt, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Oper Leipzig, Welsh National Opera Cardiff, Staatsoper Stuttgart, Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam, Opera du Rhin Strasbourg, Semperoper Dresden, Oper Zurich and Bilbao Opera in Spain.

He can be heard on recordings of “Tiefland” (Oehms Classics) conducted by Bertrand de Billy, “Harvey Milk” (Teldac Records) conducted by Donald Runnicles, “Resurrection” (Albany Records) conducted by Patrick Summers, “Dracula Diaries” (Catalyst Records) and “Song of Majnun” (Delos International) conducted by Ward Holmquist – and  “Vĕc Makropulos“, a live recording of the Salzburg Festival 2011.

Raymond Very

Radio Announcer, Clark Griffin, Branch Rickey

Martin Bakari

Scribe, Trash-Talking Player

Martin Bakari has been praised by Opera News as a “vocally charismatic” performer with a “golden tenor”. Trained at Juilliard, Tanglewood, and Boston University, he has recently appeared with Pittsburgh Opera, Utah Opera, Portland Opera, LA Opera/Beth Morrison Projects, Opera Carolina, Madison Opera, Virginia Opera, Opera Saratoga, the Kennedy Center, the New Hampshire Philharmonic, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, and NY Harlem Productions for Porgy & Bess tours in Germany, Italy, and Israel. Additionally this season, Mr. Bakari sings Tamino in Opéra Louisiane’s The Magic Flute, Prince in On Site Opera’s Morning Star, and Castleman in Pittsburgh Opera’s The Long Walk. Future engagements include Charlie Parker in Arizona Opera’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Peter the Honeyman in Seattle Opera’s Porgy & Bess, Pedrillo in Livermore Valley Opera’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and the Visitor in Portland Opera’s In the Penal Colony. Mr. Bakari’s recording of Grigory Smirnov’s Dowson Songs (Naxos Records) was recently featured by Opera News as a “Critic’s Choice” album.

Martin Bakari

Scribe, Trash-Talking Player

Harry Greenleaf

Calvin Griffith

Wixom, Michigan native Harry Greenleaf is Michigan Opera Theatre Studio’s resident baritone. He made his debut with Michigan Opera Theatre in 2016 in the role of Top in The Tender Land. His credits with MOT also include Le Bret in Cyrano, Jack Wallace in The Girl of the Golden West and Morales in Carmen. He has been a Studio Artist with the Wolf Tap Opera Company, an Apprentice Artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and a Young Artist with the Glimmerglass Festival. He holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and is an alumnus of the Michigan State University College of Music. This season, Harry will perform with MOT as Marullo in Rigoletto, Sciarrone in Tosca and the roles of Leo Stein and Man Ray in Ricky Ian Gordon’s 27.

Harry Greenleaf

Calvin Griffith

Moisés Salazar

Señor Alcade

California native Tenor Moisés Salazar will be making his debut with Michigan Opera Theater as Señor Alcalde in their upcoming production of The Summer King. Recently Moisés received third place in the great lakes region metropolitan opera council audition. Last spring he was the featured soloist in Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in a collaboration with Bowling Green State University. Past roles include Borsa in Verdi’s Rigoletto with Toledo Opera, Camile Jolidon in Lehar’s The Merry Widow at the University of Toledo, Rinuccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Flaminio in A. Scarlatti’s Il trionfo del’onore performed at the Teatro Verdi di Piza with Opera Network Florence.

Moisés Salazar

Señor Alcade

Nicole Joseph

Hattie

Soprano Nicole Joseph, equally at home on both the operatic and concert stage, is delighted to be making her debut with Michigan Opera Theatre as Hattie in The Summer King. Following the completion of her Masters and Specialist Degrees at the University of Michigan, Ms. Joseph made her professional debut as Beatrice in Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers with Kentucky Opera, and has recently performed with Opera Modo in Detroit as The Governess (Turn of the Screw), Micaëla (Carmen), and Donna Anna (Don Giovanni). This past summer, Nicole was awarded the opportunity to attend American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS) in Graz, Austria. She is also featured with MOT’s Community Outreach program as the Miller’s Daughter (Rumpelstiltskin) and Voluptua (La Pizza con Funghi). Nicole is also the winner of numerous awards and competitions, including the Metropolitan Opera Auditions (MI), James Toland Vocal Arts Competition, Nicholas Loren Vocal Competition, Harold Haugh Light Opera Competition, American Traditions Competition and Career Bridges Foundation award. Originally from Portland, OR, Nicole now resides in Berkley, Michigan.

Nicole Joseph

Hattie

Brandon C.S. Hood

Dave Hoskins

Branden C.S. Hood is a frequent performer with Michigan Opera Theatre. He sung the role of Mr. Dashwood in MOT’s 2017 production of Little Women and is a member of the MOT Chorus and Touring Ensemble. Other performances include Ford in Falstaff with Opera MODO in Detroit, Falstaff in Die lustigen weiber von Windsor, Il Conte in Le nozze di Figaro and the title role of Don Giovanni with the Lyric Opera of Weimar in Germany. He has attended the young artist programs of the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance, Pine Mountain Music Festival (2010), Opera Saratoga (Outreach Artist 2010), and Dayton Opera (2009). Mr. Hood holds Master of Music and specialist degrees from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Music degree in Opera Emphasis/Vocal Performance from the Boston Conservatory. He is a recipient of The Presser Foundation Award and of Encouragement Awards from the Michigan District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the Mario Lanza Institute.

Brandon C.S. Hood

Dave Hoskins

Olivia Johnson

Girlfriend

A native of North Carolina, Olivia Johnson recently earned her Masters degree in voice performance at the University of Michigan. This season she is a member of Michigan Opera Theatre’s Touring Ensemble. In October 2017, she placed Fifth in the American International Czech and Slovak Competition in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This past summer she won first place in the National Vocal Arts Competition for Emerging Artists sponsored by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. She also appeared in the role of Mercédès in Carmen at the Martina Arroyo Foundation, Prelude to Performance in the summer of 2017. She attended the American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS) in Graz, Austria in the summer of 2016. Her previous roles include Gertrude in Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and Dorbella in Cosí fan tutte by W.A. Mozart at the University of Michigan.

Olivia Johnson

Girlfriend

Sam Helfrich

Director

Sam Helfrich is an opera and theater director based in New York. He has directed opera productions at New York City Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Portland Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Spoleto Festival/USA, Virginia Opera, Opera Boston, Pittsburgh Opera, and Wolf Trap, among others. Recent opera highlights include a staging of Haydn’s Creation with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the New York premiere of Angels in America at New York City Opera, the world premiere of Dan Sonenberg’s The Summer King at Pittsburgh Opera, Bach’s St. John Passion with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek at Boston Lyric Opera, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at Virginia Opera, the world premiere of Enemies: A Love Story, by Ben Moore, at Palm Beach Opera, Embedded, by composer Patrick Soluri, at Fargo-Moorhead Opera, Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos at Virginia Opera, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking at Eugene Opera, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire at Virginia Opera, the American premiere of Philip Glass’ Kepler at Spoleto Festival/USA, Adams’ Nixon in China at Eugene Opera, a fully staged Messiah with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the world premiere of Michael Dellaira’s The Secret Agent at Center for Contemporary Opera in New York, the Armel Opera Festival in Hungary, and Opera Avignon, The Turn of the Screw at Boston Lyric Opera, Philip Glass’ Orphée at Pittsburgh Opera, Virginia Opera, Portland Opera, and Glimmerglass Opera, and Anthony Davis’ Amistad at Spoleto Festival/USA. Recent theater credits include Arthur Miller’s After The Fall at NYU/Tisch Grad Acting, off-Broadway productions of Owned, a world premier play by Julian Sheppard, and Tape, by Stephen Belber, both of which played to wide audience- and critical acclaim, and a double bill of plays by Shaw and De Musset at the Franklin Stage Company. Upcoming projects include The Magic Flute with the Indianapolis Symphony, Permadeath: A Video Game Opera, with White Snake Projects, Why is Eartha Kitt Trying to Kill Me? with Urban Arias, as well as a world premiere in development with New York City Opera. BA (Russian Literature), MFA (Theatre Arts),Columbia University.

Sam Helfrich

Director

Steven Mercurio

Conductor

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Synopsis

Setting

A barbershop in the 1950s and the world of Josh Gibson in the 1930s and 1940s.

Overview

A barber in 1957 remembers the story of Josh Gibson. The audience is taken back in time and shown the life and struggles of the famous Negro League baseball player.

Act I

Scene 1: Cut Off Man barbershop, Brooklyn, NY 1957

Boys are playing stickball and hit a ball into a barbershop. The Elder and Younger Barbers argue about the Negro League and the legacy of Josh Gibson. The Elder Barber remembers Gibson’s incredible accomplishments and describes the day that Gibson hit a ball completely out of Yankee Stadium.

Scene 2: Yankee Stadium, NY 1930

The Elder Barber describes the epic battle between pitcher Broadway Connie Rector and a young Josh Gibson.

Scene 3: A park in Homestead, PA 1930

Spectators respond to Josh’s home run. Josh and Helen look to their future and Helen tells Josh that she is pregnant. After a dark musical interlude, Josh reflects on Helen’s death giving birth to their twin children. He tells of his remaining love, the game of baseball.

Scene 4: Crawford Grill, Pittsburgh, PA 1935

Players and fans of the Pittsburgh Crawfords celebrate the team’s owner. Josh arrives with Hattie. Wendell Smith introduces himself to Josh. The daily number is called and the winner is a woman named Grace—who coincidentally bet 440, Josh’s batting average the previous season. Smith suggests that with numbers like that, Josh might make history by playing for a white team and breaking the color barrier, an idea his teammates disdain. Josh and his teammates scoff at Smith’s idea, but Josh is secretly intrigued by it. Grace persuades him to consider it.

Scene 5: Wendell Smith’s office, Pittsburgh Courier, March 1938

Wendell “Smitty” Smith asks Josh to consider working together to break the color barrier. Smith recalls his experience with segregation in college and admits that he was never “lightning” like Josh. Smith says Josh could change everything. Josh commits to think about it.

Scene 6: Josh’s apartment, Pittsburgh, PA, March 1938

Josh and Grace, now a couple, return from a night on the town. She scolds him, describes his greatness, and urges him to broaden his dreams.

Scene 7: Owner’s office, Griffith Stadium, Washington, DC, April 1940

Clark Griffith and his nephew meet with Josh and dangle the notion of playing for the Washington Senators. The meeting has clearly been set up to appease the black press. After complimenting Josh’s skills, they warn him about the consequences of playing in the majors. The exchange grows threatening. The Griffiths pompously describe their responsibility and their foremost concern with Josh’s best interests, making it clear they have no intention of signing him. Clark walks Josh to the door and tells him, “Boy, there’s a colored facility at the top of the stairs.”

Scene 8: Outside the Griffith Office, and Crawford Grill, April 1940

Josh, demoralized and frustrated, says all he ever wanted was his wife Helen and the game. He arrives at the Crawford Grill, where players are discussing a lucrative offer from Mexico that hinges on Josh’s participation. Smith wants Josh to stay and fight, but Josh eagerly accepts the deal. Grace agrees, “as long as it’s temporary.”

Act II

Scene 1: Escambron Stadium, Vera Cruz Mexico, October 1941

A tremendous celebration; Josh is heralded as player of the year by mayor of Vera Cruz, Señor Alcalde. Out of his earshot, Sam tells Josh that another offer has come in from back home matching the Mexican pay they receive. Grace is excited to return home, but Josh celebrates the good life he and the other players enjoy in Mexico. As the revelers bring their party off stage, Grace tells him he can do what he likes, but she’s not staying in Mexico. The partiers return, and Grace leaves disappointedly. Josh complains that his head isn’t feeling so well, and as the celebration begins to spin out of control, Josh proclaims his need to go home, and then loses his balance and collapses.

Scene 2: Wendell Smith’s Office, Pittsburgh Courier, March 1945

Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, visits Smith in his office, telling him that he is proudly ready to hire a black player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He tells Smith he needs someone “with the spirit to fight back, but…the guts not to.” Smith tells Rickey, “I may have a name for you.”

Scene 3: An empty ballfield, Homestead, PA, October 1945

Josh stands alone on a field hitting balls deep into the outfield, lamenting that nothing’s changed for him in the four years since Mexico. Players engage in a pickup game of sorts, where younger Trash Talking Player takes a turn at bat with Josh catching behind him. The two trade insults. Sam urges the younger players to respect Josh. Smith then arrives, excitedly informing the players of the news that Jackie Robinson has been hired to join the Dodgers’ Montreal farm team. Josh, is crestfallen leaves, while the others pepper Smith with questions and celebrate the news.

Scene 4: The Old Crawford Grill, now closed, Later that day, October 1945

On a tip from Sam, Grace finds Josh. She chides that it should have been him making the news today. Josh talks of imaginary conversations he has had with Joe DiMaggio, and Grace tells him that her husband is returning from war, and their relationship must end. Grace realizes that she now has to face up to her real life and abandon her fantasies about a life with Josh. She leaves him there.

Scene 5: Josh’s bedroom, Homestead, PA, January 1947

Josh, with frenzied intensity, speaks directly to an imagined Joe DiMaggio. He then announces, “I’m going to die tonight.” Sam enters to pay his respects to his dying friend, and to tell him the news that Jackie Robinson is going to break camp with the big league Dodgers. They listen to a news report about it on the radio, as Josh withdraws into his own delirium. He is visited by the ghost of Helen. Josh realizes where he is, and speaks to Sam about his fabled Yankee Stadium Home Run, and then dies. Sam sings an aria about the fallen Summer King, who led all Negro Leaguers to the Promised Land, but was denied entry himself. He then contemplates his own plight, and that of his contemporaries. We see that the Elder Barber is an example of just the kind of player about which Sam sings. The Elder Barber again extolls Josh Gibson’s greatness, as Sam asks “did we need to be greater men than our king to avoid our king’s fate?” A chorus of Negro League ballplayers accompanies Sam’s final lines.

Scene 6: The Cutoff Man Barbershop, Brooklyn, 1957 [but overlapping with the previous scene]

Elder Barber and Younger Barber briefly continue their age-old argument before the Elder Barber has the Young put on “the damn game.”

 

Epilogue: Outside Yankee Stadium, NY, 1930

When the radio is switched on, lights immediately dim on the barbershop and come up on the children’s stickball field that we saw at the beginning of the opera, although now it is located directly outside of Yankee Stadium. The Radio Announcer reprises his call of the legendary home run. We hear the crack of the bat, and the Streets Kids freeze, looking straight up to the sky, as the Radio Announcer asks “Where’d it go? Is it fair? Is it fair?…” The Street Kids scatter to the side, and one – the same boy who chased the ball at the outset of the opera (in 1957) – emerges with the baseball, as the Street Kids sing a final chorus of “Did ya see?

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