BRATTLEBORO -- The Alki Steriopoulos musical, "21" will get one step closer to Broadway when it has its world premiere this fall in Pittsburgh, Penn.
Steriopoulos, a Guilford resident who gave his first staged reading of "21" at New England Youth Theater in August 2009, will premiere his play Oct. 17 at the Rockwell Theatre as part of Point Park University's Conservatory Theatre Company.
The play will be directed by Richard Sabellico, who has directed national tours and plays Off-Broadway, and will run through Oct. 26.
"It's been seven years of hammering away at it and banging my head to get it this far," Steriopoulos said. "I'm excited and nervous. For all these years it has lived on paper and now it is going to get a life on the stage. A writer can not ask for anything more."
Roberto Clemente was a Puerto Rican-born, Hall of Fame right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates who was known for his charity work and for his resolve in standing up to racism in Major League Baseball in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
He died in 1972 while delivering food and supplies to Nicaragua.
Steriopoulos' play is a musical based on Clemente's life in and out of baseball, and on his relationships with his mother, his wife and his sister.
Steriopoulos grew up in Pittsburgh and followed Clemente's career.
As a baseball fan he celebrated as Clemente lead the Pirates to two World Championships, but it was during a late night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that Steriopoulos said Clemente had a profound affect on his life.
It was New Year's Day, 1973, and Steriopoulos was 19 at the time.
He was driving from a late night New Year's Eve gig in Pittsburgh to another show in Indianapolis.
He was nodding off when a reporter came on the radio to say that Clemente had died in an airplane crash while delivering food and supplies to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
The crushing news startled Steriopoulos and he woke up just as he his van was hurtling into a tanker truck.
He slammed on the brakes, swerved and drove across the median where he found himself facing the oncoming traffic.
Steriopoulos credits that news report of Clemente's death report with helping to save his life.
"Clemente had a saying, ‘If a man has a chance to make a difference in life, and doesn't, then he hasn't really been here,'" Steriopoulos said. "Since my fiery accident, which could have been worse and was averted by the announcement of Clemente's death, I've though about that ‘what if?' His death saved my life and he could never know the part he played in me being here to tell the story."
All those years after the accident Steriopoulos began to write a piece of nonfiction, but the musician in him heard the songs and before he knew it a musical was born.
Steriopoulos wrote the play between 2007 and 2009, and he has spent the past few years fine tuning the musical and working out the kinks.
Following the reading at New England Youth Theater in 2009 he was able to give a reading at Pearl Studios in New York City in 2012 where the play garnered the support of Bisno Productions, a professional Broadway production company which produces plays in New York, London as well as touring companies.
Bisno Productions acted as consultants for an additional New York reading in May 2013.
The Pittsburgh production was firmed up late last year and he said bringing the musical to a professional stage with the actors, the stage techs and a full orchestra has forced him to dig even deeper to now fully realize his vision of telling the story of Clemente's life and career in a musical.
Steriopoulos is no stranger to big-time Broadway productions.
He conducted "Those Were the Days" on Broadway and "On Second Avenue" Off-Broadway, and also played piano and has been musical director for productions in New York.
But this is his first time as writer and composer for a musical.
Steriopoulos has been traveling back and forth to Pittsburgh, working with the director and actors to make sure the actors' entrances and exits, the musical numbers and the set changes all synch together.
Steriopoulos has his eyes set on a Broadway production but he is taking the Pittsburgh show seriously and sees it as an important step along the twisted road that lead to the Great White Way.
"The sheer volume of shows that want to get to Broadway means less than 1 percent get there, and this step is far more than many shows ever get to," Steriopoulos said. "Few shows get to rise to this point and beyond that we have a glimmer of hope that we will get to that next step but we can't focus on that. For now we have a show to put together and we have to get it right."
For more information on "21" and to get tickets to the Pittsburgh production go to www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.