Saturday, May 03, 2008

Damn Yankees

Carousel lets Indians win pennant in ‘DAMN YANKEES’

Knowing the disdain that locals have for the New York Yankees baseball team, the staff at Carousel Dinner, which is now producing ‘DAMN YANKEES,’ adapted the script to ensure that our beloved Cleveland Indians beat their dreaded rivals for the American League pennant.

“DAMN YANKEES,’ a musical comedy with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, is a modern retelling of the Faust legend, with a baseball twist. It is based on Wallop's novel, The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant.

The story centers on Joe Boyd, a middle-aged baseball fanatic who sells his soul to the devil (Mr. Applegate) for a chance to lead the Cleveland Indians, his favorite team, to a pennant. Reinvented as Joe Hardy, Boyd transforms the hopeless Indians into a super team. In the process, with the help of Lola, Applegate’s assistant, he outsmarts the devil.

‘DAMN YANKEES, which opened in 1955 with a cast that included Gwenn Verdon and Ray Walston, won the Tony Award for best musical of the year. It ran over one thousand productions, was made into a movie staring Tab Hunter, and has had many revivals. It was choreographer Bob Fosse’s first Broadway hit.

The basically unspectacular score does include “Whatever Lola Wants,” and “Heart.”

It should be noted that I saw a preview production of the show, so much may have changed as the cast settles into their roles.

Jerry Coyle (Joe Boyd) and Jan Leigh Herndon (Meg, his wife) have nice singing voices and developed clear characters. Nathaniel Shaw (Joe Hardy) both physically and vocally fits the role of the reluctant star baseball player.

Ashlee Fife, she of long legs and high kicks, dances the role of Lola with the finesse and movements of a former Radio City Rockette. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into seductive, which the role requires. Her “Whatever Lola Wants” lacked the necessary sizzle.

It’s pretty hard to evaluate Mark Kaplan, who portrayed the devil, as he was a last minute replacement in the role, after an injury to Jim Corti who was scheduled to portray Mr. Applegate. As is, he just wasn’t as smarmy or manipulative as the role requires.

Buddy Reeder, the dance captain, stood out among the male dancers who were not always in sync. (The timing should improve with practice.)

“Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo” and “Two Lost Souls” were well choreographed.

A wonderful backdrop of the old Cleveland Stadium and a portrait gallery of former Indians players was well received.

Costumer Dale DiBernardo hit a homer with his Indians’ uniforms. During the era of the show, the Tribe home uniforms were white pinstripes, had the numbers on the back with no names and the caps had an odd shaped “C” instead of the script “I” or Chief Yahoo head of the present day. DiBernardo got all that right! He even had the Larry Doby-like character in his famous number 14!

The musical sound was rather tinny. The two keyboards and percussionist didn’t produce the big brassy sound that the music required.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DAMN YANKEES’ is not a great script and it doesn’t have a great score. It is one of those 1950s “nice” shows. Carousel’s production, under the direction of Marc Robin, is not memorable, doesn’t hit a homer, but it doesn’t strike out either.