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BWW Review: DAMN YANKEES is a Winner at Shaw Festival

Review: DAMN YANKEES is a Winner at Shaw Festival

A Winning Production

Americana and the Golden Age of the Broadway musical has happily landed at the Shaw Festival in their knock it out of the park production of DAMN YANKEES. After years without a staged musical at the Festival Theatre and repeated cancellations of it's production of GYPSY (thanks Covid!), the magic of the American musical comedy can be seen once again.

In 1955 one could see such titles as FINIAN'S RAINBOW, GUYS AND DOLLS or SOUTH PACIFIC on Broadway marquees. And after the huge success of Adler and Ross's PAJAMA GAME in 1954, the pair teamed again with the famous Broadway director George Abbott to present DAMN YANKEES. Using the unlikely topic of Goethe's Faust story as a framework for a comedy doesn't sound like a sure thing. But book writers Abbott and Douglass Wallop penned the story of a middle aged man who sells his soul to the devil to become a wonder kid baseball player, all so his beloved baseball team can finally win the pennant and defeat the NY Yankees.

The era was devoted to strong family values, dutiful wives, baseball and apple pie. Americans were watching LEAVE IT TO BEAVER on their television sets, driving their chevrolets and having backyard barbecues in Utopian neighborhoods. The dream of perfection, including having your own winning baseball team was all one needed. Adler and Ross's catchy score embodies all of these values with melodious charm.

Our suburban middle aged couple, Joe and Meg Boyd, open the show alongside other similar couples who live a life of husbands fixated on their baseball team, the Washington Senators. The wives are destined to 6 months of being ignored during baseball season. Applegate appears (aka the devil) and convinces Joe to sell his soul and become a young baseball star Joe Hardy. Older Joe accepts the devil's proposal but insists on an escape clause. Applegate employs his best assistant, the sexy Lola, to sway the boy so he never returns to his old life.

Shaw Festival favorites include Patty Jamieson as Meg, who is as picture perfect as Donna Reed and sings with a plaintive smooth voice. Jay Turvey, another regular Shaw player, is great as the team manager VanBuren- singing his heart out in the classic song "Heart."

Review: DAMN YANKEES is a Winner at Shaw Festival

Understudy Drew Plummer is assuming the role of Joe Hardy for a brief time and there is no need for concern. Plummer is a large strapping gent who looks like a cornfed Iowa boy. Employing a sweet honey colored voice and a winning smile, Plummer embodies American youth and wholesomeness. His lovely scenes with Ms. Jamieson were especially moving in their duets "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You."

Mike Nadajewski as Applegate has found all the right spots for humor and magical entrances and tricks. By the times he sings "Those Were the Good Old Days" he morphs into a true vaudevillian song and dance man that has the audience eating out of palm of his hoof! ( I mean hand).

Kimberley Rampersad is a statuesque Lola, with legs that go on for days. Her take on the role is unique, as a vamp ala Mae West, striking many a glamorous pose to captivate her men.. She lacks some of the power notes needed to sell her songs and bits of the busier choreography in the famous "Whatever Lola Wants" didn't always appear smooth or effortless.

The original production used the young choreographer Bob Fosse and his future wife Gwen Verdon to set the stage ablaze with his signature moves that allowed Verdon to shine as the seductress Lola. Verdon went on to repeat her stage performance in the motion picture of DAMN YANKEES- one of the few times she was seen on the silver screen. For the Shaw, choreography by Allison Plamondon gets to employ many dance styles, from athletic kicks and twists for the baseball players and kooky Mambo moves for the ensemble. The large male ensemble gets to shine alongside sassy reporter Gloria Thorpe (played by Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane) as they dance the raucous "Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo."

The brassy orchestra led by Paul Sportelli played a fabulous overture and was a welcome addition to complete the high standards found in this entire production. Special kudos to Dialect Coach Jeffrey Simlett for bringing a spot on midwestern sound to this Canadian cast of actors.

The Shaw Festival has spared no expense in it's slick production. Set and costume designer Cory Sincennes has created a 1950's wonderland for the eyes. The framework of the stage is made of vintage ads from the era that generate an immediate smile as a nostalgic look to a simpler time. Opulent set pieces grace Applegate's house, while mod 1950's kitchens and living rooms are picture perfect. The costumes are splendid, full of bright plaids, pleats and crinolines for the ladies and fun patterned shirts for the men. And the finale costume parade of baseball inspired fashions was the icing on the cake.

DAMN YANKEES plays out like a joyous warm summer night in the baseball park. Satisfying and reminiscent of a simpler time, audiences of all ages will find plenty to enjoy in this energetic production.

DAMY YANKEES runs through October 9, 2022 at the Festival Theatre of the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake.


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