Sunday, June 17, 2012

Damn Yankees

DAMN YANKEES…an enjoyable evening of escapist theatre at Porthouse
Probably the golden age of musical theatre in the US was from 1950 to 1960. Great scripts like King and I, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story were staged. Also produced were such flops as SALAD DAYS, ZULEIKA, ANKLES AWAY, THE VAMP, SHANRI-LA, SHNBONE ALLEY AND FREE AS AIR. Most shows were of the neither great nor flop variety. These included the likes of CALL ME MADAM, GUYS AND DOLLS, PAINT YOUR WAGON, CAN-CAN, WONDERFUL TOWN, FANNY and THE PAJAMA GAME. Also included in that list is DAMN YANKEES, now on stage at Porthouse Theatre.

With a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, it is a modern retelling of the Faust legend which takes place in the 1950s in Washington, DC. It’s an escapist piece that makes no attempt to make a philosophical point nor give a snapshot of the real world.

The story concerns Joe Boyd, a long suffering fan of the Washington Senators’ baseball team. He fantasizes that the Senators will beat the hated New York Yankees. He also has a secret desire to be an all-star who plays for his favorite team. As the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.”

The devil, in the form of red-sock-wearing, horned-headed Mr. Applegate, mysteriously appears to offer Boyd a chance for his desires to come true. The only hitch is that Joe has to give his soul to the devil when the season ends. Boyd, in desperation, agrees.

As the Senators’ fortunes soar, Joe realizes he’s losing his beloved wife (Goodbye Old Girl) and looks for a loophole. Enter temptress Lola (Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets), a charter member of the Home Wreckers Hall of Fame who surprisingly turns out to be his ally. What will happen? Will the devil prevail? Come on now, this is a musical comedy.

The show’s track to success was not easy. The 1955 Broadway opening was met with mixed, mostly negative reviews. The next day the writing team got together, cut one number, switched another from the second act to the first, cut twenty minutes of dialogue, and rewrote the ending. The changes went in that very evening. An invitation to the reviewers brought them back to the theatre and garnered much more positive comments. This was enough to make the show a modest 1019 production run. By comparison, MY FAIR LADY’s original Big Apple run was 2717 showings.

DAMN YANKEES is a good script choice for the Porthouse audience who tends to like folksy musicals, with lots of dancing and fantasy. They do not tend to be the NEXT TO NORMAL, RENT or SPRING AWAKENING crowd. Give them patter, humor and happy endings and they seem content to stand and cheer the final curtain.

The production, under the sprightly direction of Terri Kent, moves along quickly, has dynamic production numbers, and pleases. Kent is fortunate to have MaryAnn Black and Eric van Baars, Kent State faculty members and Porthouse favorites, to cast.

Black, who defies age, high kicks, struts her stuff, and wiggles her fanny with the best of them. While contemporaries, the likes of Gwen Verdon, who played the role of Lola in the New York production, have faded, Black continues to entrance audiences. This is one talented lady who knows how to control a stage. Her versions of A Little Brains, a Little Talent and Whatever Lola Wants were show stoppers.

van Baars, who often comes front and center when Porthouse needs a character to do shtick, inhabits the role of Mr. Applegate, made famous by Ray Walston on Broadway, with ease. While there are times when there could have been a little more devil-like scheming, as a whole, sported by hysterically appropriate devilish costumes, he makes us believe the devil is amongst us. His Those Were The Good Old Days was fun.

As Joe Hardy, the reinvention of Joe Boyd, boy-next-door handsome Michael Glavan, is typecast perfect. He looks and acts baseball jock in an unassuming and “aw schucks” folksy way. He has an excellent singing voice, moves well, and gives a nice texturing to the role. His A Man Doesn’t Know was charming.

Mary Anne Prevost develops a clear character as Boyd’s wife. Lenne Snively and Lissy Gulick are hoots as two ditzy baseball-addicted fans, Marc Moritz has some nice moments as Joe Boyd, and Rohn Thomas is believable as the Senator’s manager. Each of the chorus of baseball players develops a unique character, singing and dancing with vigor and ability.

Highlight numbers included: The Game, Two Lost Souls, Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO, and Heart.

John Crawford’s choreography fits the mood of the production. Jonathan Swoboda’s musical direction is on target. His musicians support rather than drown out the singers. Ben Needham’s turntable set works well. Jan Evans’ costumes, especially those designed for van Baars, help create the proper mood.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: DAMN YANKEES is not a great script, but quality singing and dancing, and a solid cast, headed by MaryAnn Black, Eric vanBaars and Michael Glavan, create an enjoyable evening of summer entertainment.