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REVIEW: Lovely, Moving Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle Returns (Southern Theater)

Max Wojtanowicz in Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle. Photo by Dan Norman.

“Cancer’s back” is one of the worst pieces of medical news imaginable. “That musical about cancer is back”, however, is great news. Max Wojtanowicz’s Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle is currently back at The Southern Theater for a limited weekend engagement.

As the title suggests, this is a musical about testicular cancer, based on personal experience. Over the course of an hour, writer-performer Max Wojtanowicz talks and sings about his experiences with diagnosis, treatment, loss, recovery, and grief. Along the way are witty jokes, a cavalcade of puns, family gossip, alternately amusing and moving parodies of several standard songs, and a really stellar song that for lack of a program will be called “Be Brave”.

Ball is not to be missed. The show premiered at the 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival, quickly selling out houses and becoming one of the best-selling shows of the festival. Since then, it has toured across the state; after this weekend’s run, the next stop is the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (for a performance, not treatment).

Mining cancer for comedy is tricky business, but the jokes and lyrics about cancer and its treatment clearly struck a chord with the audience. Members alternately laughed and dabbed at their eyes in different passages, and “Be Brave” is so powerful as to bring tears to the eyes just recalling it.

Max Wojtanowicz in Ball. Photo by Dan Norman.

The musical score is something of a smorgasbord; Michael Gruber, Jason Hansen, and Andrew Cooke are credited as the composers. For musical theatre fans, most of the songs will sound very familiar, in part due to a liberal use of musical tributes and quotations. Said fans may get more of the slyer musical references, but no prior audience experience is required.

As executed in The Southern – the same venue in which the musical premiered two years ago – Ball is economical in movement, with the occasional dance around the IV stands and a minimal number of props (a water bottle doubles as a marker for Hennepin County Medical Center, for instance). The stage holds just Max and pianist-music director Jerry Rubino, but the house is practically pregnant with Max’s charisma. If anything, this show has gotten better with age.

Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle plays through Sunday, June 24 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine