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BWW Review: Play Ball with DAMN YANKEES at MPAC

BWW Review: Play Ball with DAMN YANKEES at MPAC

Spring is in the air which means the start of baseball season. Baseball is my all-time favorite sport. While many say it is boring, there is such a passion and purity to the American Pastime that its enjoyment and place in our culture cannot be ignored. So, when you take my favorite sport and combine it with my love of theatre, well there is the show I want to see. "Damn Yankees" at Manatee Performing Arts Center opened Thursday night and is sure to have that rare breed who love both sports and theatre in "Heaven."

The musical is based on the novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant." With a book by George Abbott and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross "Damn Yankees" is a modern retelling of the Faust legend set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. Long-time baseball and Pittsburgh Pirates lover, Joe Boyd makes a deal with the "Devil" (Applegate) and is transformed into Joe Hardy who is destined to become the greatest baseball player of all-time. Joe is on a mission to beat those "Damn Yankees" and help his beloved Pirates win the Pennant. Of course, any deal with devil has consequences and Joe must battle the trek of life choices as he searches to find true happiness both in and out of baseball.

The musical begins in true baseball fashion as the audience stands for the National Anthem. Each night the theatre will have a different guest singer and on Opening Night, Stephanie Roberts from ABC7 Suncoast View got the game (I mean musical) started. The show had several cute, integrated sports features including singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during intermission.

Director Cory Boyas has assembled a wonderful cast that is full of talent and immense energy. The numbers are engaging and he has molded his characters to tell a story with a message that is clearly delivered. I was especially impressed with the comradery of the cast. They made choices and delivered those choices without compromise. This allowed for unmistakable chemistry on stage which is a credit to Boyas and his team. The music was at times a little weak especially in the group numbers, but I anticipate this area will strengthen as the run continues.

Joey Panek (who you have most likely seen on ABC7 Suncoast View) plays Joe Hardy. That incredible personality that we see on TV transferred perfectly to the stage and there was no question why he was a professional actor for many years. From the first note he sings, your expectations are immediately raised to a new level as you begin to wrap your brain around the quality performance you are about to witness. Panel is dynamic in every sense of the word. He is bold when he has to be and can do a complete 180 degrees when the role calls for his weaknesses to be shown. Panek adds a spark that is filtered to his entire cast which is paramount for this role. His character has many layers and he does a magnificent job of carefully pulling back each one of those layers for the audience to see.

The role of Applegate is played by Kevin Steele. If I hadn't looked at his bio, I would never have known he played Bert in MPAC's "Mary Poppins" last year. This is a true credit to Steele and his ability to play two vastly different characters. There was a flare every time he stepped on the stage. As the "villain" it is easy to be hated, but in this case, you will love him at every turn. Steele is simply hilarious and adds a dimension to Applegate I had not seen previously. At one point, the audience actually started cheering for him (rare for a villain). Steele wraps you into his evil web of destruction and is polarizing as he navigates through his plan of destruction.

Kathryn Parks plays Lola, a fellow villain, who ends up changing her wicked ways when she experiences the love and true heart of Joe Hardy. Parks displays crisp and solid vocals throughout the show in addition to a few eccentric dance moves. She carefully shows the heart of her character as you see the transformation of her beliefs and desires. Like most changes with one's character, it is a process and Parks does a nice job in not rushing the process and allowing the audience to experience the change she is undergoing.

Ellen Kleinschmidt and Ric Stroup are precious as Joe and Meg Boyd. They have a sweet bond on stage that makes you smile. Victoria Gross (Sister) and Sami Blouin (Doris) add comedic relief throughout the performance. Dave Springer (Van Buren), Tanner Fultz (Eddie) and the entire ensemble of Pirate's Players all deliver noteworthy performances and give the audience true moments of laughter.

"Damn Yankees" lacks a bit of flow at times but the characters keep the laughs coming. The start of baseball season is still a month away. Lucky for you "Damn Yankees" will allow you to get a head start on the season and even better, provide you with a memorable theatrical experience.

"Damn Yankees" runs through March 8th at Manatee Performing Arts Center. Tickets and more information can be found at www.manateeperformingartscenter.com.



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From This Author Jacob Ruscoe