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"Damn Yankees"

★★★★★Baseball is “America’s Pastime” or so they say. Growing up as a Chicago Cubs fan, I know the hurt in watching other teams constantly win, while my “loveable losers” were always the “bridesmaids”. Those who grew up in the American League recall the mighty New York Yankees back in the 1950’s ( and earlier)- they were always winners. The musical, “Damn Yankees” with a book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop, music by Richard Adler, and lyrics by Jerry Ross is based on the novel by Wallop, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” and in a way is the retelling of the Faust legend, of one selling their soul to the devil for victory!

If you imagine yourself to be a fan that would give anything to see your team knock off the always winners, the New York Yankees, would you do it? That is what Joe Boyd is faced with in the current production now on the stage at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. A bit of history. I played the role of Applegate ( double cast with Frank Galati) at Glenbrook High School in their 1960 production under the direction of Ralph Lane. I loved every minute of the show then, and found myself falling in love with the show again.

The story is about one Joe Boyd ( ( Ron E. Rains) who is the “ultimate”, fan that hates the Yankees for what they do to “his” Washington Senators. He is married to Meg ( a wonderful portrayal by Daniella Dalli) who understands that

“Six Months Out Of Every Year”, she is a baseball widow!  Joe says that he would sell his soul to wipe out the Yankees and we see the appearance of Applegate ( handled to perfection by Sean Fortunato) aka The Devil. He offers Joe his chance to bring his team a winning season as a young Joe Hardy ( deftly handled by Andrew Alstat). As we all know, Marriott is a theater-in-the-round so making the transition from old Joe to young Joe was no easy task, but under the slick direction of  James Vasquez and the wonderful choreography of Tyler Hanes, we never saw the transition being made either time. Very smooth and mind-boggling to those who have never seen this show before.

Young Joe gets his tryout with the team and is put onto the roster immediately. With Applegate’s help, he is the greatest baseball player ever! Of course, the press cannot believe this is happening and Gloria Thorpe ( Erica Stephan) begins her campaign to tell his story ( and sell papers). Joe Hardy misses Meg and finds a way to rent a room in her home so that he can be near to her. But seeing this, Applegate calls for help from Lola ( an incredible performance by Michelle  Aravena), who is to make him fall in love with her and allow Applegate to “own” Joe’s soul as per their agreement. He did give Joe an OUT on the last day of the season but made sure that the opportunity never took place..

This is an old musical, with a longer first act and an overture and Entr’Acte ( most of today’s musicals do not have these items) and is filled with songs like “Goodbye Old Girl”, “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo”, “You Gotta Have

Heart”, “Two Lost Souls”, “Whatever Lola Wants” and many others. The dance numbers in this show are amazing considering we are in an in-the-round theater.

The cast of players is one that fills every role to perfection. Lorenzo Rush Jr., once again shows his versatility as Van Buren, the team manager and Jonah D. Winston likewise in several roles. The females that stand out in the cast are Heidi Kettenring as Sister and Lydia Burke as Doris. The baseball players are sensational in their numbers, “Heart” and “The Game”. In particular ,  Ron King, Sam LInda, Garrett Lutz, Thomas Ortiz, Sam Rohloff , Brian Bandura, Dan Gold, Sam Linda, Christopher Kale Jones and Ben Broughton as Rocky who is an amazing dancer.

The rest of the ensemble was made up of” Brooke Henderson, Daniela Rodrigo, Madison Stewart and Concetta Russo. This ensemble proves my point about musical theater- a strong ensemble fills all the roles needed to have a tight show and this one reaches perfection from top to bottom.

On the tech side of the production, with very little in the way of set possible with this type of theater, Regina Garcia got it done. The lighting (Jesse Klug) and sound (Michael Daly) were flawless and Theresa Ham’s costumes were of the period making us feel as if we had gone back in time. I will say that the Applegate costumes were wonderful as were the magical tricks Fortunato mastered for the role. Sally Zack’s props were the finishing touch on stage and the orchestra conducted by Noah Landis right on. Nine musicians sounded like a full orchestra and made the music come alive.

Yes, this play is dated! Yes, they needed to modernize a bit ( which they did with “Two Lost Souls” and “Who’s Got The Pain”), but the story is magical, the music fun, the story plausable ( well maybe there is no Devil, but with what we see in today’s world of politics, maybe there is). If you haven’t seen a production for 30 years or so, make it a point to get to Lincolnshire for this sterling production. You will have a “ball” for sure and will get to see some of our wonderful performers show their stuff.