BWW Reviews: 3-D Theatricals Hits Another Home Run with Peppy DAMN YANKEES
When it comes to classic old-school stage shows, DAMN YANKEES seems to be one of those enjoyable, reliable gems that people generally like (or come to like), yet, curiously, is the kind of musical that doesn't exactly incite that much rabid fanaticism, nor does it end up on too many people's best-of lists---even though the original 1955 Broadway production won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical and ran for more than a thousand performances. Better still, the stage show even prompted a wonderful, well-received film adaptation, too.
The lack of louder fanfare for this sports-themed musical is puzzling considering it has a winning, solid combination of book (by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop) and score (by PAJAMA GAME team Richard Adler and Jerry Ross) that often inspires great acting, singing and dancing performances (when executed correctly, of course). But in the grand scheme of things, this show itself is a pretty safe and predictable musical---a tried-and-true enterprise that high schools, colleges, and community theaters have continually mined for its dependability in being liked.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
By today's standards, the show's sassy wit and bawdy sexiness (the latter via original choreographer Bob Fosse) feels downright tame. It's aww-shucks pluckiness about team camaraderie, moral ethics, and marital faith are as rah-rah All-American as apple pie and, well, baseball. Even its own roots reveal some comfortable familiarity: based on Wallop's own novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, DAMN YANKEES is an Americanized, mid-20th Century iteration of the classic Faust-ian legend, which finds an ordinary mortal making a deal with the devil in order to quickly gain knowledge, wealth and success.
So is this lack of popular attention a side-effect of being too square? Too old-fashioned? Too straight-forward? Too been-there, seen that?
Well, frankly, if those are labels applied to this musical, then they should be worn with a bit of cheeky pride, because more often than not, DAMN YANKEES---despite its gosh-darn "old-fashioned" epidermis and gimmick-free showmanship---still manages, at its heart, to be one of the most endearing, smile-inducing, all-around entertaining shows that deserves more contemporary attention than it gets.
So leave it to Orange County's award-winning 3-D Theatricals to produce a very peppy, refreshing update. A buoyant, truly impressive local revival directed by Alan Souza, 3-DT's DAMN YANKEES is a true audience pleaser, highlighted by an enthusiastic cast and spirited re-imagined sequences that are truly Broadway-caliber. This all-new production is now playing at its home base, the Plummer Auditorium, in Fullerton through July 27 (the show travels to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center from August 2-10).
Everything from the inspired visual and musical staging and the fast-paced action, to the casting choices and song delivery, in this production is just all-around superb. While it retains much of the show's "squareness" on its sleeves, it's definitely one of the cheeriest productions I've seen this year.
Though essentially a musical love letter to America's pastime, DAMN YANKEES is, deep-down, a musical tug-of-war between one man's love of his home-life and his love of the game. An obsessed fan of the Washington Senators, Joe Boyd (Robert Hoyt), focusing only on the game on TV, is perpetually disappointed in his favorite team always losing to those "damn Yankees."
He is so rapt in the game that he doesn't even notice the anguish of his oft-ignored wife Meg (the lovely Cynthia Ferrer) who still soldiers on, quietly complaining under her breath about being invisible "six months out of every year" due to Baseball season (we learn the neighborhood wives suffer the same ailment as well). Tired of being ignored, Meg retreats upstairs.
Alone watching his Baseball game, Joe wishes out loud that he'd be willing to sell his soul to see his favorite team triumph.
But as the saying goes... be careful what you wish for.
And with that... Poof! In a puff of smoke appears Mr. Applegate (the terrific Jordan Lamoureux) in the middle of Joe's living room. Crafty and sinister-looking with a wicked smile and devilish (haha) charm, the stranger offers Joe an offer too good refuse: that if Joe surrenders his soul to Mr. Applegate, Mr. Boyd will be transformed into "Joe Hardy" a new young player that will join the Senators to help them win the pennant. The catch: he must leave his old life behind, including his wife.
Empowered by his business sense, Joe counters Mr. Applegate's offer with an "escape clause," allowing Joe the option of walking away from the deal on the final night of the game to return to his old life in the 'burbs. With their mutual agreement, the now younger-looking Joe Hardy (debonair Cameron Bond) tries out for the manager of the Washington Senators, Van Buren (Joe Hart)---and quickly impresses everyone and instantly wins a spot on the team.
Sports reporter Gloria Thorpe (Chelsea Emma Franko)---though suspicious of the new wünderkind's sudden appearance---decides to piggy-back the attention by creating a headlining sensation around the new player, labeling him "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO." Soon Joe Hardy's winning hits elevate the team's overall standings---which also raises Joe Hardy's fandom.
But all his newfound success in baseball can't erase Joe's feelings of homesickness, particularly his feelings for his wife whom he misses dearly. In an effort to be closer to her, Joe decides to pretend to be a boarder in his wife's home. Meg happily takes him in, and Joe is relieved in the knowledge that his wife still believes that her missing Joe will return home someday. Awww.
This, naturally, doesn't sit right with the conniving Mr. Applegate, who hates to lose a deal, much less a soul.
Mr. Applegate's first act of sabotage? He calls on his prized seductress Lola (the sexy Alexis Carra) to tempt Joe with an adulterous tryst via provocative song-and-dance ("Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets"), which, of course, he hopes will guarantee Joe's banishment to hell. Alas, Joe's love for his wife proves to strong, even for the likes of Señorita Lolita Banana, Lola's heavily-accented alter-ego.
The battle between Applegate and Joe Hardy comes to a head when a fabricated story comes to the surface, threatening Joe's future not only with the Washington Senators but with his wife as well.
Old-fashioned yet also timeless in the best possible way, 3-DT's production of DAMN YANKEES (which wisely sticks to the 1955 version of the book) smartly sticks with what works but then updates much of it with a refreshed modernist twist.
The re-imagined locker-room scene that surrounds one of the show's signature tunes "(You Gotta Have) Heart" especially benefits from this new coat of theatrical paint, creating a very exciting production number that feels like it belongs to a brand-new 21st Century show (and, no, not just because the guys are literally taking turns in the showers). It's also a fantastic way to introduce the show's magnificent supporting cast.
The ensemble cast---particularly the rambunctious young men that comprise Joe Hardy's teammates on the Washington Senators---are so perky and über-caffeinated that their joy and camaraderie is super infectious, which truly sets the cheery tone for the musical's pleasing sense of glee. And then for these guys to carry out Dana Solimando's athletic high-energy choreography (heavily inspired by Fosse, undoubtedly)...well, these guys are worth the price of a ticket alone.
But, of course, the show's trio of leads are this production's true MVP's. As Joe Hardy, Bond possesses both the strapping build and good looks of a superstar athlete, but also the gentile naiveté of a young man gullible enough to accept an offer from the devil. And, gosh, that voice! As Lola, Carra straddles the unique position of being effortlessly sexy and effortlessly hilarious. It's really easy to fall in love with her renditions of "Whatever Lola Wants..." and "Who's Got The Pain?"
And as the devil himself, Mr. Applegate, Lamoureux proves once again what an intriguing, versatile, and mesmerizing young actor he is. After laudable turns in 3-DT's remarkable production of PARADE last year and his turn as Jack in 3-DT's INTO THE WOODS earlier this year, this guy is virtually unrecognizable in this role, giving his Mr. Applegate a unique sneering accent and a wickedly fun demeanor that you sort of want to win his scheme against poor Joe.
Musically, the show sounded brilliant under musical director and conductor Diane King Vann (the show's sound mix was well-balanced this time around, thank goodness). I especially loved hearing the thundering, baritone voices of both Joes---Hoyt and Bond---which sounded absolutely enthralling throughout the show.
For a sports-themed musical, I admit it's one of the few that keeps my attention, and for good reasons. This new production of DAMN YANKEES is, when it comes down to it, just a gosh-darn enjoyable show. With such dynamic and zippy staging, particularly when the team gets into a musical tizzy, you can't help but root for the Senators, too.
In a way the show itself follows its own motto: that you've gotta have heart. And by gosh, does it ever---even if the devil had a lot to do with it.
Need a reason to fall in love with this show even more? Go see this regional revival now!
Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ
Performances of 3-D Theatricals' DAMN YANKEES continue at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton through July 27, 2014, then moves to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center from August 2 - 10, 2014. Shows are scheduled Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm.
For tickets or more information, call 714-589-2770 or visit www.3DTshows.com.