MILLBURN, NJ - “Damn Yankees” first opened on Broadway in 1955 and was a big hit at the time. The show still has colorful songs, exuberant choreography and benefits from a talented cast.
Combining baseball and musical comedy is a sure-fire way to attract an audience. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross invented such likeable songs as “You Gotta Have Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.” The latter was Gwen Verdon’s big breakthrough, with choreography by Bob Fosse, in the Broadway production directed by George Abbott.
Howard McGillin as Applegate enters the home of Joe Boyd and makes a devil’s pact with him that he can win the pennant for the Washington Senators against the New York Yankees. Joe, played by Joseph Kolinski, buys into the plan and is instantly transformed to a younger version of himself, Christopher Charles Wood as Joe Hardy. Wood has a sensational voice, although not as much chance to use it as we would like. Still, his renditions of “Goodbye Old Girl” and “A Man Doesn’t Know” are stunning. When he teams up with “Near to You” with Meg, played by Patti Cohenour, it’s a touching moment.
Chryssie Whitehead is the smoldering Lola, whom Applegate has brought in to seduce Hardy and keep him on the team. When Lola and Hardy join in their duet, “Two Lost Souls,” we’re suddenly transported to another world of starlight, clouds and dreams. McGillin brings just the right flair and cynicism in his irreverent “Those Were the Good Old Days.”
Nancy Anderson gives as good as she gets as the inquiring reporter, Gloria Thorpe, who isn’t about to buy into Hardy’s story of being from Hannibal, Missouri. She and the team deliver a rousing “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.” The Senators team is terrific with “Heart,” led by Ray DeMattis as the coach. The swinging and sliding moves neatly emulate a baseball motif, nicely choreographed by Denis Jones. There are many such moments in this likeable, if not great, musical.
Sister and Doris (Susan Mosher and Jill Abromovitz) are really too silly and annoying, but that was probably part of the original staging, providing a pat, if pointless, diversion.
It’s a delight to see the 1950’s era revived, on the cusp of “Mad Men” without the dark side. Costumes by Alejo Vietti are right on, from the women’s matching hats and gloves to Lola’s slinky gowns. Mark S. Hoebee has directed this appealing production, augmented by a full orchestra under the direction of Ben Whiteley. Credit Charles LaPoint for hair and wig design, lighting by Tom Sturge and a fast-changing set by Rob Bissinger.
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