Musical Theatre West’s “Damn Yankees” is damn fun
Perfect for both baseball playoffs and the spooky season, Musical Theatre West’s (MTW) production of “Damn Yankees” will have you chuckling and humming at the same time. The 1955 musical about a year the New York Yankees didn’t make it to the playoffs—and the supernatural reason why—is both fantastical and amusing. And MTW pulls it off with excellent acting, singing, sets and costumes. Play ball!
“Damn Yankees” was written by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop—based on the latter’s 1954 novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant—with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Though some of the early numbers may seem a little quaint today, such as “Heart,” that’s probably the one you’ll be singing as you exit the theatre (“You gotta have heart…”).
The story itself, though, stands up to the test of time because it is a timeless fantasy. Middle-aged Joe Boyd (Norman Large) is a diehard Washington Senators fan, so much so that his wife Meg (Teri Bibb) good naturedly sings about being ignored “Six Months Out Of Every Year” as Joe shouts at his television set during baseball season in their cozy Washington, D.C. home (scenic design by Kevin Clowes).
Fortunately, Meg has a circle of neighborhood friends to keep her company—including the inseparable Sister (Julie Cardia) and Doris (Katie Brown)—with whom Meg plays bridge and bakes. The women wear 1950s-style mid-length frocks while Joe shlumps in a cardigan (costumes by Amy Setterlund) as the Senators lose yet again to those “damn Yankees.”
But what if Joe could do more for his favorite team and make his amateur baseball-player wishes come true? Enter Mr. Applegate (Jeff Skowron), a smooth talker in a smoking jacket promising to make Joe a younger man who can help the Senators defeat the Yankees in the playoffs. The price? Only Joe’s eternal soul.
Skowron is fun to watch as Applegate, carrying off his devilish role with savvy elegance, slick yet amusing. Before Joe enters this Faustian bargain, though, he makes Applegate agree to an out-clause whereby Joe can change his mind on the final day of the season and return to his former life as Meg’s husband.
With barely a handshake, Joe Boyd transforms into the strapping Joe Hardy (a talented James Olivas), singing “Goodbye Old Girl” to the sleeping Meg as he takes off into the night, potentially forever. Through Applegate’s orchestration, Senators coach Van Buren (a fitting Matthew Henersen) quickly accepts Joe Hardy to the team after he awes them with his preternatural batting and fielding skills.
The only one suspicious of how Joe Hardy suddenly appeared on the scene is intrepid sports journalist Gloria Thorpe (Aurelia Michael-Holmgren), though she and the rest of team initially celebrate him with the rhyming “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.” Michael-Holmgren is sharp and perky as Gloria, somehow stealing every scene she’s in.
Joe Hardy is further tested by another woman, Lola (Lesli Margherita), who works for Applegate in securing men’s souls with her va-va-voom charm. Lola’s attempt at seducing Joe in the locker room with a funny combination of baby talk and sex appeal—singing “Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)”—is hilariously choreographed. Margherita is supremely confident in her seductress role, gamely strutting and stripping while pretending to be girlishly helpless, singing all the while.
The rest of the Senators team is comprised of likeably amusing stock characters with names like Rocky (Daniel John O’Connor), Smokey (Josh Alvarez) and Vernon (Julian Xavier), who open the second act singing an amusingly rowdy “The Game” in the locker room, about remembering the strict rules of baseball when they’re tempted by women.
The second act also features a Bob Fosse-inspired nightclub number between Lola and Joe Hardy (“Two Lost Souls,” choreographed by Alexis Carra Girbés) that adds a less campy aesthetic dimension to the musical, with the ensemble dressed in slinky Beatnik black.
Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, you will enjoy “Damn Yankees” as a fun romp that gives its lively female cast as much to do as the sporting men. Directed by Cynthia Ferrer, the entire cast brings a verve matched only by Matthew Smedal’s energetic musical direction of the orchestra. Take yourself out to see this ballgame.
Musical Theatre West’s “Damn Yankees” continues through Oct. 30 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach, with shows Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. (and 6:00 p.m. on Oct. 23). Ticket prices start at $20 and can be purchased by calling the MTW box office at (562) 856-1999 or visiting Musical.org. Run time is 2 hours 30 minutes, including intermission. Masks are optional.