A Damn good time at Marriott
In the 1950s, when pretty much everyone expected the New York Yankees to win the pennant every year, a writer named Douglass Wallop wrote a book called The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. Crazy idea, no? Well, it was back then, so much so that Wallop’s book couldn’t even imagine it without someone having to sell their soul to make it happen. In an era when pretty much all baseball teams were tired of losing to the “Damn Yankees,” it was obviously a lot of fun to think that beating them would require supernatural assistance.
In the musical based on his book, Wallop and George Abbott imagined a man named Joe Boyd, a lifelong Washington Senators fan who accepts Satan’s offer so that he can become the kind of ballplayer who can (finally) lead his beloved team to victory. With songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the Faustian tale won multiple 1955 Tony Award including Best Musical. Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre’s new revival of the show reveals that it has lost none of its playfulness…and the fact that we still instinctively find it easy to root against the Yankees shows that it has also lost none of its topicality.
Boyd (Ron E. Rains) has lived his life married to his wife Meg (Daniella Dalli) and the Senators. He loves his wife deeply, but his team has completely worn him out, to the point that when a man named Applegate (Sean Fortunato) reveals himself to be the devil incarnate and offers his services for the usual price, Boyd eagerly accepts, though he negotiates an out clause first: he can free himself from the contract is he tells Applegate by September 24, but if he plays in the final game on the 25th he is stuck forever. He immediately becomes the younger, fitter Joe Hardy (and in this case also becomes Andrew Alstat) and then, with Applegate’s help, finds himself on the Senators belting home runs all over the place and leading the basement-dwelling team in a crazy climb up the standings.
If all baseball teams could sing and dance as well as these Senators, even the Yankees would be tolerable. The players are featured in several of the songs, including classics like “Heart” and “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo,” and both numbers are handled wonderfully by director James Vásquez, choreographer Tyler Hanes, and a tremendously talented cast. As the summer moves on and it appears possible that the team will both win the pennant and do so by September 24, Applegate needs to step in and put his supernatural foot on the scales. First, he tries to get to Joe with a demonic temptress named Lola (Michelle Aravena) who has worked for him many times in the past. Since “Whatever Lola Wants,” Lola gets, Joe and his love for Meg seem doomed.
Aravena is excellent as Lola. Even before she starts feeling compassion for the poor guy caught in Applegate’s web, it is clear that she is sick and tired of the game. As much as she tries though, she can’t break through the deep love Joe has for his wife, and even though the pennant is not wrapped up by the 24th, the long-suffering fan of the ever-losing Senators decides to get out anyway.
As for Applegate, Fortunato has more fun with this part than in any ten other roles: he is as joyfully sleazy as a Devil should be. He constantly shows up in scenes, manipulating the Senators’ management, the league itself, and a baseball reporter named Gloria (Erica Stephan), among many others as he plays every card in his overloaded deck—of course, he cheats—to win the soul he desires.
The excellent supporting cast here includes Lorenzo Rush, Jr. and the inimitable Heidi Kettenring, and Marriott’s nine-piece orchestra, led by Noah Landis, is as impressive as always. You might consider selling your soul for this level of entertainment, but you don’t have to: tickets for Damn Yankees are available from Marriott Theatre.