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BWW Reviews: Allenberry's DAMN YANKEES is One Devil of a Good Time

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Oh Allenberry, you had me at the pinstriped stage curtain.

The young and the deluded apparently do not understand that just as the Dallas Cowboys are not really America's team, the sport of football is not really the national pastime. The national pastime, children, is baseball. It is an orderly sport (except during rhubarbs) that while lacking the violence of football or hockey, does display order, symmetry, mathematical exercise, and the joys of the crack of a wooden bat against leather on a warm summer evening, as you sit with a cold beer in one hand and a box score chart in the other, while the breeze wafts through the stands and the vendors call their songs. Unlike basketball, it is in the wholesome outdoors and its tickets do not require mortgaging your home. There is no literature of soccer, or of curling, or of the NFL, to rival the literature of baseball, no classic poetic equivalent of "Casey at the Bat" to be memorized for any of these lesser though more heavily promoted sporting events.

And no other sport has given us as much stage and movie entertainment based upon it. The greatest of which is not BULL DURHAM or any other baseball film, but a musical, DAMN YANKEES, which references the single greatest sports team in the history of the world, the New York Yankees. (Yes. It is. There will be no debate on this, but there will be a quiz later.) The New York Yankees, of pinstriped-uniform fame. Yes, Allenberry, you had me at the pinstripes.

Which is a shame, perhaps, because, as director Ryan Gibbs, himself a New Yorker, knows, DAMN YANKEES celebrates not the single greatest sports team in the history of this or any other world, but those lovable losers - no, not the Chicago Cubs, or the Boston Red Sox, or the late, great, long-lamented Brooklyn Dodgers, but the late, less remembered, Washington Senators. But when it comes to DAMN YANKEES, that's forgiven, because they're such great, delightful losers, especially to the Yankees. And why is that? Because they've got heart, miles and miles of heart - and that's one of the key things about Richard Adler's and Jerry Ross's songs; not only are they, like George Abbott's and Douglas Wallop's book, full of heart, but they're memorable. DAMN YANKEES has produced a giant handful of musical standards known to people who know nothing of the show: "Heart," "Two Lost Souls," "Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo," and the cabaret diva standard, "Whatever Lola Wants." Any one of them would be an outstanding number in any musical; all of them in one musical is a perfectly good reason to be humming your way out the door after the show. All four are some of the most pleasant earworms around.

A great score, however, still needs a great cast. Allenberry's redoubled efforts at casting this year have paid off with interest in this production. In this cheery, comic retelling of the Faust legend, with baseball rather than women the subject of the bargain, the Devil is, rather than vile and reeking of evil, the sharply dressed and sharply witty Mr. Applegate, whose black-and-red tailoring betrays no trace of ash or brimstone on cuff or collar. Played with moustache-twirling flair by Craig E. Treubert, the devious "talent agent" transforms middle-aged, bland Joe Boyd (Jeff March) into handsome, young hitting powerhouse and shortstop of doom, "Shoeless" Joe Hardy (played neatly and believably by Jack O'Brien). While Hardy and his ability to clinch the season for the Senators by beating the Yankees are one of the two main plots - the other is Joe's desperately missing his wife, Meg (Lanene Charters), whose long-suffering devotion he'd never noticed while they were together - this is Treubert's show, as his Applegate rules not only the gates of Hell but every scene he's in. From his hot-footing cats with the pointing of a finger, to his machinations with his assistant, Lola (a marvelous Allison Mickelson, making hay with Gwen Verdon's signature Broadway role), Treubert is an audience magnet. That he sings, dances, and charms his way through "Those Were the Good Old Days" in the second act, lauding Napoleon, Jack the Ripper, and the plague in the most endearing way, is icing on the cake.

Also worth the price of admission is regional theatre, especially Goodspeed Opera House, veteran Paul Carlin as Senators manager Van Buren, who both falls under the spell of Joe Hardy's bat and gives his hapless team the all-important message that they "gotta have heart." Carlin's got enough heart for anyone, and a voice to carry the message. Allison Mickelson's not-as-sinister-as-she-should-be demonic temptress, Lola, is also incredible fun as well as a great singer. Her "Whatever Lola Wants" and her duet with Treubert in "Two Lost Souls" are absolutely delightful performances.

Kudos to the pit orchestra, which has enough heart to sound twice its size. It needs to, to carry the fine ensemble numbers that the show has. If anything is identifiably off-key, it's that the pit orchestra can manage enough heart to drown out the crowd on stage every so often.

And you know, looking at player salaries these days, maybe DAMN YANKEES has it right. Sports agents just might be the Devil incarnate. Want to hock the house for a basketball ticket, anyone?

This production has plenty of heart, certainly enough to carry it through July 19. If you want to know why baseball is still the greatest sport in America, no matter what the football fans think, DAMN YANKEES will make it clear. It's all about heart. Go, enjoy, and walk out wearing your heart on your (pinstriped) sleeve. And if you're not huming "Heart" when you do, you weren't listening.

For tickets and information, call 717-258-3211 or visit www.allenberry.com. And don't forget to wear those pinstripes. The Babe and Yogi would want it that way.


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