BWW Review: DAMN YANKEES Is a Home Run at Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre in Cincinnati
Would you think the musical DAMN YANKEES from 1955 be relevant today? Director Matthew Wilson said, "Today's audiences are certainly viewing it through a different lens than those who saw the original production over 60 years ago. It is more nostalgic today. But these characters still reflect us. The pride or shame that average citizens feel for their local teams is still a very palpable thing." Wilson is in his seventh consecutive summer of directing at Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which presents DAMN YANKEES based on the book The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop.
Opening night of DAMN YANKEES revealed a mostly young, energetic cast who belted out musical numbers and performed original dances choreographed by Kate Stark. CLP founder and executive director Tim Perrino played Joe Boyd, a middle-aged real estate agent and baseball fan, who trades his soul to the devil, Mr. Applegate, performed by Rodger Pille, CLP communications and development director.
Mr. Applegate changes Boyd into young baseball sensation Joe Hardy, 22, to lead the Washington Senators with a home run in the final game of the pennant race with the New York Yankees. Some minor vocal intonation problems occurred with Perrino in his musical numbers. Patrons can hear voiceovers by Pete Rose as the baseball commissioner and Marty Brennaman as the baseball announcer, giving the production more hometown appeal.
In a story based loosely on the legend of Faust, DAMN YANKEES provides the audience particularly strong performances by Pille, in a solid role as a smooth and slick salesman Mr. Applegate; Renee Stoltzfus as ace Washington Post reporter Gloria Thorpe, who acts, dances and sings with conviction; and William Jackson, a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music sophomore, as Joe Hardy, who nails every musical number he sings.
The set features a basic living room as well as a locker room of the Washington Senators team. Nothing outstanding here. Designed by Caren Brady, costumes reflect the 1950's especially with the women in the show. Mr. Applegate appears in a classic, professional suit and a dapper hat. Created by lighting and sound designer Denny Reed, red lights often focus on Mr. Applegate's role as the devil. Music director Steve Goers conducts the original score with words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Highlights are "Whatever Lola Wants," "You Gotta Have Heart" and "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO."
Afraid of losing his deal, Mr. Applegate asks Lola, a sultry blonde, overplayed by Rachel Perin, to seduce Hardy. But, she doesn't succeed.
Mr. Applegate decides to switch tactics to ensure Hardy's failure. He releases false information about Hardy's true identity as Shifty McCoy, an escaped criminal and con artist. When Thorpe discovers this information, she presses charges, and Hardy is forced into court, according to the show description.
Pille said CLP uses the original script from 1955, as follows. "At the hearing, Meg Boyd and her female neighbors arrive as material witnesses, attesting to Hardy's honesty and falsely claiming he grew up with them in Hannibal. The commissioner acquits Hardy, but as everyone celebrates, midnight strikes. Hardy realizes he's doomed.
"Mr. Applegate has planned for the Senators to lose the pennant on the last day of the season, resulting in thousands of heart attacks, nervous breakdowns and suicides of Yankee-haters across the country. He is reminded of his other evil misdeeds throughout history in the song Those Were the Good Old Days.
"Late the next afternoon, Mr. Applegate awakens to find the Senators/Yankees game well underway. Realizing Lola has tricked him-and worse, that Lola has actually fallen in love with Hardy - he turns her back into an ugly hag.
"They arrive at the ballpark by the ninth inning, the Senators up by a run. With two outs, one of the Yankee sluggers (Mickey Mantle) hits a long drive to the outfield. Mr. Applegate impulsively switches Joe Hardy back into Joe Boyd in full view of the stadium. Now paunchy and middle-aged, Boyd makes a final lunge at the ball and catches it. Washington wins the pennant. As his teammates celebrate and fans storm the field, an unrecognized Boyd escapes from the ballpark."
Wilson said, "That home team pride is certainly part of the reason I believe DAMN YANKEES is a great show for CLP to be producing in Cincinnati, home of the first professional baseball team."
DAMN YANKEES opened on Broadway at the 46th St. Theatre on May 5, 1955 and transferred to the Adelphi Theatre in 1957 where it ran for a total of 1,019 performances. Later revivals occurred in London in 1957 and on Broadway in 1994 and 1997.
The musical received several significant Tony awards in 1956. They included best musical, best performance by a leading actor in a musical - Ray Walston, and best performance by a leading actress in a musical - Gwen Verdon. Bob Fosse won a Tony award for best choreography.
CLP and Tri-Health present DAMN YANKEES from 5/24 to 6/18 at the three-year-old Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre located at 801 Matson Place in the Price Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. For more information, visit www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com or call (513) 241-6550.
If you're looking for an evening of fast-paced musical comedy this summer, DAMN YANKEES fits the bill.
Picture by Mikki Schaffner of William Jackson as Joe Hardy and Rachel Perin as Lola.