Damn Yankees A Home Run Hit
If you could sell your soul, what would be so important that you’d trade an eternity in hell to make it happen? Well, Joe Boyd is a middle-aged, long-suffering baseball fan. However, he’s so frustrated by his team’s losses that after Meg, his patient and loving wife retires for the night, Joe pledges an unthinkable oath to the universe. Grumbling and griping about his team’s defeat, Joe shakes his fist at the heavens and shouts that he’d sell his soul if his beloved Washington Senators could finally “beat those damn Yankees.” Suddenly, from out of a puff of smoke, a tall, debonaire gentleman appears.
We meet smooth talking Mr. Applegate, a devilishly slick wheeler-dealer of a salesman. He offers Joe the chance to help his team by becoming a young baseball phenom named Joe Hardy. If Joe agrees to trade his soul for the opportunity, he’ll become the hero that the Senators need to win their league championship and challenge the Yankees for the World Series. Joe agrees, but insists upon an escape clause to his contract. Applegate reluctantly gives in to him, saying that Joe can return to his former life IF he leaves the team before their final game on September 25. If not, he’ll remain young Joe Hardy forever and his soul will spend eternity in hell.
But naturally complications arise. Joe finds that he truly misses his wife. After he wanders back to his own neighborhood, he asks Meg if he could possibly rent a room. She agrees, but then salacious rumors arise about Meg housing a young man in her home. Mr. Applegate decides to bring in a pinch hitter, of sorts. He conjures a beautiful, sexy enchantress named Lola to seduce Joe so he’ll forget about his wife. This ploy fails, but not for lack of trying. Then Gloria Thorpe, an eager beaver young sports reporter, tries to dig up dirt about the gifted, young slugger. When Joe Hardy claims he’s originally from Hannibal, MO, Gloria discovers it’s a lie. But to insure Joe’s failure and win his soul, Applegate intimates that Joe Hardy actually might be an escaped criminal named Shifty McCoy. Suddenly the young ballplayer finds himself embroiled in a court case to prove his identify. All the nail-biting events come down to the eleventh hour—literally—but, since this is musical comedy, the show ends happily.
Based upon The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, a 1954 novel by Douglass Wallop, he and prolific playwright George Abbott adapted the book into the popular 1955 musical, “Damn Yankees.” Richard Adler and Jerry Ross composers of the Tony Award-winning “The Pajama Game,” also composed the score for this musical. It would also go on to win 7 Tony Awards in 1956. Two yeas later a film version of the musical proved equally popular, starring screen heartthrob Tab Hunter, along with Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon, from the original Broadway cast. After several special concert productions, the show was revived on Broadway in 1994 and again Off-Broadway in 2017.
The musical features an infectious, toe-tapping score that includes songs that became standards, such as “Heart,” “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Two Lost Souls,” as well as catchy, show-stopping production numbers like “Six Months Out of Every Year,” “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO,” “The Game” and “Who’s Got the Pain?” In addition, there are some beautiful ballads, like “Goodbye, Old Girl,” “Near to You” and “A Man Doesn’t Know.” And there’s one absolutely delightful, show-stopping number for Applegate entitled “Those Were the Good Old Days.” In this narrative number he recounts many deplorable disasters from history, for which this grinning devil was responsible.
James Vasquez makes his auspicious Marriott Theatre debut, beautifully directing this production with a sharpness and infusing it with an astonishing amount of energy. He transforms this show from the Golden Age of Musicals with new life and, while still paying homage to the 50’s, a pulsating, contemporary sensibility. Paired with brilliant choreographer, Tyler Hanes, and Marriott’s own gifted Musical Director, Ryan T. Nelson, this vintage musical snaps and crackles like a brand-new show. Conductor and keyboardist Noah Landis keeps the show pulsating with driving up tempos and bluesy ballads, provided by his talented nine-member orchestra.
The entire cast is first-rate. Andrew Alstat makes his first appearance on the Marriott stage in the leading role of Joe Hardy. He’s fantastic, with the requisite naive quality, youthful looks, a gorgeous, highly-trained voice and the ability to dance with the best of them. And it’s an added bonus that Mr. Alstat radiates charm an athletic ability plus a naturalness that makes us believe his every word and deed.
The supporting cast is equally talented and versatile. Another newcomer to the Marriott Theatre, Broadway’s Michelle Aravena makes a sensuously seductive Lola. This gorgeous actress, who appeared in shows like “Beetlejuice,” “A Bronx Tale” and “Jersey Boys,” to just name a few, captivates both Joe Hardy and the audience with her liquid moves and lovely voice. When she later confesses her love for the young ballplayer, we absolutely believe her. Chicago’s own magnificent and versatile Sean Fortunato, an actor who’s equally at home doing Shakespeare as he is starring in musicals, is both fiendish and frolicsome as the devilish Mr. Applegate. He’s charismatic, suave and—may I say—devil-may-care as this magical, mystical, musical Mephistopheles.
With a golden voice and an earnest persona, lovely Daniella Dalli returns to the Marriott as Meg Boyd. After her standing ovation earned by playing The Mother Abbess in “The Sound of Music,” Ms. Dalli makes every song here a showstopper with that glorious voice of hers. Fresh off his success in Writers Theatre’s production of “Once,” Ron E. Rains is heartfelt and heroic as Joe Boyd. Surprisingly, Erica Stephan makes her Marriott debut as probing reporter, Gloria Thorpe, although she’s dazzled audiences on just about every other Chicagoland stage. Ms. Stephan’s a bundle of dynamite in this role, particularly leading the company in “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO.”
Other standouts include Lorenzo Rush, Jr. as Van Buren, the hardworking manager of the baseball team, who’s full of “Heart.” He will be remembered as The Old Man in Marriott’s holiday hit, “A Christmas Story.” As Mr. Welch, the owner of the Washington Senators, that Giant of a talent, Jonah D. Winston, returns to the Marriott stage after playing Karl in their recent production of “Big Fish.” Also last seen in “Big Fish” at the Marriott, as Sandra, as well as in the title role in their grand production of “Hello Dolly,” Heidi Kettenring is hilarious as Sister, Meg’s enthusiastic, man-hungry, baseball-loving best friend. Ben Broughton is a standout among the talented baseball playing ensemble as Rocky, a rope-jumping master, as well as a great singer/dancer. And Dan Gold, always in fine voice, is simply terrific as another ballplayer, Smokey.
With superb lighting and sound, courtesy of technical geniuses Jesse Klug and Michael Daly, and a wardrobe of whimsical and colorful period costumes and wigs, designed by Theresa Ham and Miguel A. Armstrong, this production is a home run hit in every way. For a nostalgic trip back to the more innocent days of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver, Director James Vasquez’s fabulous, fast-paced Spring musical comedy from the 1950’s coincides perfectly with the opening of baseball season and is one All-Star Game of a show.