DAMN YANKEES GETS A DEVILISHLY FUN REVIVAL AT MARRIOTT LINCOLNSHIRE
Damn Yankees premiered on Broadway way back in May 1955. But while the cellar-dwelling Washington Senators pitted against the titular team in the musical’s mythical pennant chase are long gone, the New York Yankees are just as hated today by fans of other clubs as they were 68 years ago. So the central question–How much would a die-hard fan sacrifice to help his team beat the Yanks?–still feels current.
In fact, I have a theory that the timeline we live in is the only one in all the multiverse in which the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016–and in exchange, we had to suffer through the Trump Administration and the pandemic. Was it all worth it? I know a number of Cubs fans who would call that a bargain well struck.
That gives Marriott Lincolnshire’s revival of Damn Yankees on the far, far, far North Side an extra bit of frisson. Many in the audience for Wednesday’s opening night know all too well that willingness to sacrifice almost anything in exchange for their long-suffering team to get a shot at glory. When middle-aged Senators fan Joe Boyd (Ron E. Rains) sells his soul to the Devil (Sean Fortunato) to be remade into young slugger Joe Hardy (Andrew Alstat), who can take Washington from 7th place all the way to the World Series, these fans can relate.
The only real catch–and isn’t there always a catch when it comes to dealing with Old Scratch?–is that Joe has to leave behind Meg Boyd (Daniella Dalli), the baseball widow wife he truly loves. Will Joe be able to execute the escape clause he talked the Devil (known in this story as Applegate) into adding to the contract? Or will his head be turned by baseball stardom and Applegate’s go-to temptress, Lola (Michelle Aravena)?
Director James Vásquez and choreographer Tyler Hanes keep the story moving like it’s on the new MLB pitch clock, filling the sightlines of the theater in the round with athletic young ballplayers doing jump-rope tricks and leaping through the clubhouse lockers that spin around the stage on wheels.
The singing, especially from Alstat, Aravena, Dalli and Lorenzo Rush Jr. (playing club manager Van Buren with as much brio as he brought to the role of the Old Man here in A Christmas Story), also lights up the scoreboard. Standout numbers include pop-culture classics “Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants” as well as “A Man Doesn’t Know,” which beats as the emotional heart of the show. And a special swish of the tail goes to Fortunato, who has a wickedly good time with his solo number, “Those Were the Good Old Days,” which may have inspired Mick Jagger to share his sympathy for the Devil.
It’s a winning cast top to bottom, with strong performances from Alstat, Dalli, Rush, Rains, Heidi Kettenring (who legs out a standup double in the smallish role of Sister) and all the ballplayers. But Fortunato and Aravena elevate the show to a higher level, which is ironic given that their characters dwell far down below. These are juicy roles full of opportunity for comedic mischief and mayhem, and the Devil and his apprentice nail those moments at every turn, like a closer who fires blazing fastballs to seal his team’s victories.
There are a few creaky aspects of the show itself–chiefly that it doesn’t do a good job of setting up the deep love between Joe and Meg, and that it closes the first act with an out-of-left-field number (“Who’s Got the Pain?”) that leads to some head-scratching at intermission. But Damn Yankees otherwise holds up surprisingly well and this production is worthy of flying the W flag.