BWW Reviews: DAMN YANKEES at the 5th Avenue Theatre
"You gotta have heart!" That's the central conceit of any production of "Damn Yankees". Without that heart they might as well be singing about golf. Well luckily the current production at the 5th Avenue Theatre in conjunction with the Paper Mill Playhouse has heart to spare combined with a killer cast and visually spectacular set.
With music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, "Damn Yankees" is one of those gems from a bygone era of Broadway musicals that fortunately has not quite been done to death. It's the Faustian tale of Joe Boyd (Hugh Hastings), an avid fan of the Washington Senators baseball team even though they consistently lose. So when Joe makes the mistake of making a throw away comment such as "I'd sell my soul for one long ball hitter" enter Mr. Applegate (Hans Altwies), who offers to take Joe up on his offer, his soul to make Joe 22 again and the greatest ball player ever. But Joe being the shrewd real estate man he is manages to convince the devil … er … Mr. Applegate into an escape clause so he might be able to return to his wife Meg (Patti Cohenour). And with that Applegate transforms Joe Boyd into Joe Hardy (Christopher Charles Wood) who will lead the Senators to win it all. But when Applegate sees that Joe is still pining for his old life, he enlists the help of Lola (Chryssie Whitehead), his best home wrecker, to turn the head of the devoted man. And with all that the field is rife for any number of lamenting ballads, raucous baseball numbers, sexy seductions and one hilarious ode to bad days gone by. But this may not be exactly the "Damn Yankees" you're familiar with as it's a bit different from the 1994 revival and much more akin to the original 1955 version.
Wood is wonderful as young Joe with is matinee idol looks and velvet smooth voice; he's the perfect straight man for the chaos surrounding him. And he even manages to let a little of his own devilish nature out in his Act Two duet with Lola which was entirely too much fun. Speaking of Lola, Whitehead practically steals any scene she is in with her deliberate and focused overtly sexual style. With her legs for days she writhes and wriggles all over Joe in the signature "Whatever Lola Wants" with oodles of sex appeal and gorgeous voice. And I especially loved her uber-fun rendition of "Who's Got the Pain?" which had some of the best choreography of the night. And I have to mention the equally amazing Nancy Anderson as reporter Gloria Thorpe. Not only does Anderson have the perfect style for the 50's era (I swear she was born in the wrong decade) but her voice and comedic chops know no bounds.
But what is a good Faustian tale without a good devil? Luckily Altwies tackles Applegate with aplomb and manages a delightful glee in just how evil he can be. I'd never seen Altwies in a musical before but not only did he hold his own up there but completely sold Applegate's 11 o'clock number "Those Were the Good Old Days".
Really with that spectacular set I mentioned before by Rob Bissinger and some stunning and wonderfully fun and still period choreography by Denis Jones, the production is a winner. I'm not sure I'd exactly call it a Home Run (to use the obligatory baseball reference) but I'd definitely say it was a solid Triple with a runner poised to steal home.
"Damn Yankees" plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre through May 20th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion