Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Omar Robinson ’06 and Todd McNeel ’21 bring forgotten stories to life in ‘Toni Stone’

Huntington Theatre

Emerson alumni Omar Robison ‘06 and MFA alum Todd McNeel ‘21 are underway with rehearsals for the Huntington Theatre’s revolutionary production “Toni Stone.” The play is about the real-life story of Black female baseball player Toni Stone. 

The play was written and is currently being directed by Lydia R. Diamond. She adapted it from a novel that tells the hidden story of this trailblazing woman and her life from the ‘30s to the ‘50s. 

McNeel studied communications management with a concentration in public relations for theater and performing arts. He is currently understudying the roles of Millie and Stretch for “Toni Stone.” McNeel is originally from Dallas, TX, but is now based in Boston. In an interview with the Beacon, McNeel discussed his educational experience before and during his time at Emerson. 

“I went to school in Arkansas. I studied opera and theater, and then added a communications major,” McNeel said.

He came to Emerson after earning his undergraduate degree to earn his master’s degree in communications. While he was pursuing his master’s, he worked at ArtsEmerson and completed a marketing fellowship.

“I got to be in the room with production teams and artistic directors and actors, looking at them from a different lens, more so as an administrator,” McNeel said.

“I think that my time at Emerson allowed me to holistically see what the industry is like on both the artistic and administrative side and be more confident as a performer,” McNeel added.

McNeel went on to explain his choice of second major. 

“Because of my comfort on stage and being in front of people, the communications major was my best add-on,” he said. “It’s also allowed me to support an acting career.”

When asked about the history of “Toni Stone,” he said he was glad to be a part of a production that is helping tell her story and making her known to new audiences. “It is a beautiful story,” McNeel said. “I hope the audience walks away wanting to know more and wanting to see the show again.” 

The show originally premiered in New York as an off-Broadway production and was produced about five or six times across the country before this upcoming production at The Huntington Theatre.

“It’s one of the first times I’ve been in a production where there is an all-Black cast,” McNeel said. “Which is very special because being an actor in Boston, as that’s not too common.”

The playwright is also the director, he said.

“You get to be in the room with the person who wrote the play (Lydia R. Diamond) who is a Black woman,” McNeel said. “She’s able to wear different hats, as director, as someone with historical knowledge.”

McNeel recalled the different information Diamond told them and said she connected with Stone’s family members. 

“I believe her nieces, nephews, and other distant relatives could see a production of it,” McNeel said.

McNeel outlined the two understudy roles he is portraying, one of whom is Stretch—a coach and team player, and Millie— a female-identifying character in the show. 

“Toni is the only female role, and then the other men in the show might portray a mother,” McNeel said. 

“But Lydia said that she thought seeing Toni on stage as the only woman with nine other men would be powerful. It’s really beautiful the way Lydia has written it,” McNeel added. 

Robinson majored in theatre studies with a focus on acting and a secondary emphasis on television and video production. He plays the role of Spec in production. In an interview with the Beacon, he talked about the rehearsal he had just come from, where the cast had been working with baseball consultants for the play.

This was not Robinson’s first encounter with the show as he did this show as part of a workshop by Diamond in 2017. 

“Cut to seven years later, the audition process was through Zoom; it was awesome to see how we played with each other as a team,” Robinson said.

Robinson was initially cast as Stretch, but early in the rehearsal period, they decided to switch his casting to Spec.

“What is kind of different and fun about this one, because it’s a sports play, is diving in and being a part of a team more so than kind of other productions; we gotta get to know and understand each other on a much deeper level since we are playing together,” Robinson said.

Robinson admitted that he didn’t know Stone’s history either before beginning the production. 

“The first female baseball player to play professionally in America was Toni Stone, a Black woman,” Robinson said. “It just goes to show who writes our American history.”

The play showcases how rooted it is in its mission to put Black history on stage in many ways, one of which is by having an all-Black cast of characters. 

“I’ve had the benefit of being in a handful of all-black casts, especially recently,” Robinson said. “I’m feeling that good energy, two more months of strong, loving Black energy; it’s been great.” 

Robinson had bittersweet things to say about his time doing his undergraduate studies at Emerson. 

“I loved my time there; it was a bit of a lonely place when I was there,” Robinson said. “I was the only Black male student in my acting classes. I had to kind of resist being put in that box.”

While Emerson’s lack of diversity pushed Robinson into a box, he found mentorship through his professor, Ted Hewitt. 

“One of my biggest takeaways, the biggest arguably, is just the people. Ted Hewitt, one of my professors then, is still a mentor to me and is the intimacy and fight consultant on this production, [Toni Stone] and still an Emerson professor,” Robinson said.

“My relationship with him emboldened me and strengthened me as an artist and a human being. It’s been amazing to come in and out of my career and come across a professor like him.” 

But through everything, the show’s cast has provided him friendship and support throughout the process. 

“We start dancing and laughing together every day,” Robinson said. “There’s also such warmth and welcomeness from everyone. It’s feeling good.” 

“Toni Stone” opens on May 17 at the Huntington Theatre and runs until June 16. 

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About the Contributor
Danielle Bartholet
Danielle Bartholet, Assistant Living Arts Editor
Danielle Bartholet has been passionate about writing as long as she can remember, writing on her high school newspaper and then for the Berkeley Beacon since 2023. She is currently a freshman at Emerson as a WLP major and a marketing communications minor. She is from Houston, TX, and enjoys reading and writing, as well theatre.

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