It's been 27 years since Rockford Peaches catcher Dottie Hinson executed a full split at home plate while catching a pop-up and "All-the-Way" Mae and Doris wisecracked their way through a single baseball season in Penny Marshall's crowd-pleaser A League of Their Own.
The movie about the women's baseball league that sprang up while male players were off fighting in World War II was a bona fide blockbuster when it dropped in theaters in 1992. With its themes of female solidarity, gender parity, and tackling stereotypes around women in sports, it resonated with queer women, who had at that point only a handful of characters in indie flicks with whom they could identify. Plus the movie starred Geena Davis hot off of 1991's feminist manifesto Thelma & Louise and featured strong support from favorites Rosie O'Donnell and Madonna.
Now Good Trouble's Emma Hunton is directing an overtly queer and campy version of A League of Their Own that would have delighted '90s LGBTQ audiences on another level. A musical theater veteran of Next to Normal and Wicked, Hunton is also an alumna of many of Rockwell Table and Stage's Unauthorized Musical Parodies (UMPO). With UMPO: A League of Their Own, she's made her dream directorial debut adapting a revelatory and nostalgic film from her childhood for the stage -- and she hit it out of the park. Hunton, longtime UMPO writer Kate Pazakis, musical director Gregory Nabours, associate producer Nathan Moore, and choreographer Mallory Butcher deliver a wickedly funny, heartfelt, and often zany show (Natalie Masini as Dottie milking a mouthy cow played by Teya Patt and a number that pays homage to Geena Davis's resume to the tune of "Bette Davis Eyes" jump to mind).
UMPO: A League of Their Own leans into the movie's feminist themes while also featuring a satisfying narrative in which the girl gets the girl. In this case, it's home-run hitter Marla Hooch (Patt) who falls in love with a woman (a female audience member chosen randomly for each performance) whom she weds during the show's second act, much to the audience's unbridled glee.
"We are living in a time where women are finally discovering that we're not each other's competition, that we are each other's teammates, and that we can't get anywhere without each other. That's why people have tried to shut us up for so long, because we are very powerful when we're all on the same team," Hunton tells The Advocate.
The cast of A League of Their Own
Hunton, who plays social media influencer Davia on Freeform's breakout series Good Trouble, has distinct memories of watching A League of Their Own on TV when she was young and realizing then that it was different and special.
"I was sitting on Grandma's living room floor, and we had one of those old TVs that was wood, and it would creak when you turned it on. It was like starting up a Chevy in the winter," Hunton says. "I remember the smell in the living room and the sound of the TV. As a little kid, I remember thinking, There are so many women."
"Even at a young age, I remember thinking that this was a big deal," says Hunton, who hails from Southern California. "I was aware that the Dodgers games my mom took me to, it was all men."
Marshall's film featured an ensemble, but there was no denying that Davis and Tom Hanks (as the team's grizzled manager, Jimmy) were the film's big stars, with Lori Petty as Dottie's eager kid sister, Kit, rounding out the leads. For her production, Hunton leveled the field and created an ensemble cast primarily of women (with two men playing all of the male characters) where each character gets a chance to shine.
"The overall message that I want from this show is that none of these girls can do this it without each other," Hunton says. "Everyone has just a little moment, whereas in the movie it is very clear that Dottie and Kit are the stars. In our show, it is much more spread out and even."
As with all UMPO shows, A League of Their Own digs into a massive pop and rock canon to curate songs that help to tell/satirize the story. A few of the big numbers include Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," the Bangles' version of "Hazy Shade of Winter," Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer," and the Beatles' "Blackbird." And, of course, no tribute to this film would be complete without a Madonna song.
"We knew that we wanted it to be [a song] on the older side of her catalog and something that everybody danced to. And 'Like a Virgin' was it," Hunton says, explaining the thought process behind choosing the right number. She also says Katie Powers, who plays Mae, has dance prowess that she wanted to highlight.
But Madonna was also a way into the movie when she first saw it, considering she was familiar with her music and also had an affinity for the character of Mae.
"I loved Mae because she was always so performative," Hunton says. "I think I didn't get that she was quite so 'about town' when I was a kid."
While determining how best to highlight the film's queer appeal, Hunton knew she wanted to thwart expectations, and the character of Mae figured into that idea.
Rocking the 'Rockwell' Peaches Uniform
"I knew I was not interested in making Rosie's character [O'Donnell was not publicly out at the time she made the film] a lesbian because I feel that that is so overdone, particularly with her. And I find making jokes at people's quote-unquote obvious gayness is not humorous to me," Hunton says. "It's not funny, and it does more harm than good."
She also had no desire to amplify stereotypes about queer women as sexually insatiable and decided that Mae, with her sexual agency, wasn't the perfect fit to become the lesbian character for the production. In the film, Marla (Megan Cavanagh), who's painfully shy in part because of the men (like her father) who've controlled her, surprisingly finds love at a dance. She eventually leaves the league to marry the man.
"It was important to me to take a character that we all know and love and show how much different she isn't just by switching the gender of who she falls in love with," Hunton adds. "It was a sort of subtle commentary on how you love someone no matter who they love and that her being with a woman in the show -- particularly making it a female audience member --doesn't change just because of the gender of the person that they love."
Good Trouble is arguably one of TV's most LGBTQ-inclusive shows, with its groundbreaking lesbian, bisexual, trans, and nonbinary characters and several out cast members and creators. But Hunton's exposure to that deeply progressive environment hasn't stopped her from being continually moved by the audience's overwhelming response to Marla's queer nuptials.
"It makes me a little emotional because people are screaming for them when they find out that they get married. There's something about it," Hunton says. "My cousin is out and proud. I am pansexual, and we've been out to our families forever, but it's so nice to feel that just a couple of years ago, we wouldn't be cheering that on as loudly."
"That I have an entire room full of people erupting and cheering for a lesbian wedding is beyond my hopes and dreams and expectations," she says.
UMPO: A League of Their Own runs at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Angeles through September 15.
Watch the cast perform "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" below.