A DEVIL OF A GOOD TIME!
Looking to fill your breezy summer evening with the crack of the bat and a stadium-size offering of blockbuster musical numbers mixed with an offer of immortality? All these merge in “Damn Yankees,” the 1955 award-winning hit with book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, lyrics and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, choreography by Bob Fosse and starring Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon. “Damn Yankees” received seven Tony Awards, spawned a hit film, and is playing now in a robust and rollicking revival at Marriott Theatre that’s a devil of a good time!
The musical, based on Wallop’s “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” holds up well nearly 70 years later even with a cluster of eye rollers in the script that require a special comic touch these days. But all is forgiven when this time capsule begins delivering a string of socko company numbers like “Heart,” “Shoeless Joe from Hannibul, MO,” “Who’s Got the Pain,” and “The Game” in showstopping style. And that’s exactly what happened—twice—at Wednesday’s opening performance with the top-flight talent assembled by director James Vásquez and Tyler Hanes’s Fosse-infused choreography.
Vásquez has stacked the lineup for laughs, too, with Sean Fortunato in a wickedly sardonic performance as the devious devil Mr. Applegate who grants the wish of Joe Boyd (Ron R. Rains) for the Washington Senators to win the pennant. With a slight of hand, a whiff of smoke and a change of name, Applegate creates Joe Hardy (Andrew Alstat) whose youth, power and abilities will pick the hapless Senators out of the cellar and into the World Series for the small price of Joe’s eternal damnation. As the team rises in the standings, the story clings to some detective work by ace reporter Gloria Thorpe (Erica Stephan) whose curiosity threatens to expose Joe before he can finish the job and lead the team to victory.
It doesn’t take long for Joe to realize that he’d rather be home with his wife Meg (Daniella Dalli) than face Applegate’s mounting pressure to stay within the baselines. As Joe begins to waver, Applegate enlists the services of Lola (Michelle Aravena), an irresistible temptress, to woo Joe back on his team. But even Lola’s sexy and sultry advances fail and Lola instead conspires to help unravel Applegate’s plan. As the clock ticks down, things start to heat up in Joe’s world.
In addition to the many memorable individual highlights in the show—Aravena’s playful, coy “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and the steamy “Whatever Lola Wants” are truly topflight and Fortunato knocks “Those Were the Good Old Days” out of the park—the ensemble’s work throughout, and especially in “Two Lost Souls,” a dark, smoky ode to Fosse that virtually oozes up from the underworld, is phenomenal.
In a cast of venerable Chicago talent, Lorenzo Rush Jr. stands out as the Senators coach Van Buren who leads the ensemble in “Heart” and plays some solid work with Jonah D. Winston and Michael Kingston. Erica Stephan steps up front and center for the crowd-pleaser “Shoeless Joe” that includes the amazing jump rope talents of Ben Broughton. Heidi Kettenring and Lydia Burke team up on the sidelines as kooky, adoring Senators fans, spreading gaiety and a little fog around on Regina Garcia’s sharp and versatile set. With Jesse Klug’s surreal lighting effects, Michael Daly’s subterrain sound and truly gorgeous 50s era costumes by Teresa Hams, the stage is awash in vibrant color to match the music directing talents of Ryan T. Nelson and Noah Landis’ orchestra, and to make Marriott’s “Damn Yankees” the show to see in Chicago.