Mariott Theatre delivers major league revival...
The reminder to shut off cellphones that preceded Wednesday's opening of Marriott Theatre's "Damn Yankees" came with an unexpected postscript.
"Play ball," said the disembodied voice, heralding the start of the 1955 musical about a baseball fan who makes a Faustian bargain to ensure his beloved team wins the pennant.
Based on Douglass Wallop's novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," "Damn Yankees" -- with a score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a book by Wallop and George Abbott -- is a Triple-A tuner: pleasant but creaky.
That said, Marriott's jolly revival -- directed by James Vásquez, in his Marriott Theatre debut -- is major league, thanks in part to its all-star principals, assisted by power hitters Heidi Kettenring, Lorenzo Rush Jr. and Jonah D. Winston in supporting roles.
As the show opens, middle-aged Washington Senators fan Joe Boyd (the artlessly, honorable Ron E. Rains) bemoans the team's losing record and longs for a longball hitter to help defeat the despised New York Yankees. Meanwhile, devoted wife Meg (the warmhearted, honey-voiced Daniella Dalli) and her friends commiserate about losing their husbands to America's pastime in the snazzily staged opening number "Six Months Out of Every Year."
Frustrated with the team's misfortune, Joe offers to sell his soul for a slugger. The devilishly affable Mr. Applegate (Sean Fortunato, a most ingratiating rapscallion), accepts his offer and the escape clause Joe insists upon including. In exchange, Applegate transforms him into Joe Hardy (Andrew Alstat, a fresh-faced Marriott newcomer), a strapping, 22-year-old baseball phenom who makes an impression on and off the field.
Hired by owner Mr. Welch (Winston) and beleaguered manager Van Buren (Rush) and hyped by sports writer Gloria Thorpe (Erica Stephan), Hardy propels the team into pennant contention, delighting fans including Meg's best friends Sister (Kettenring, providing solid comic relief) and Doris (Lydia Burke).
Concerned Joe Hardy's love for Meg might cause him to back out of their arrangement, Applegate enlists femme fatale associate Lola (triple-threat Michelle Aravena) to seduce him in the delicious tango "Whatever Lola Wants." It's one of several numbers showcasing the dynamic Aravena, who stops the show with "Who's Got the Pain?" a hugely entertaining, utterly superfluous mambo that interrupts the narrative for the sole purpose of providing a dance break.
Still, "Damn Yankees" is a fun show. "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO" is a foot-stomping showstopper about the creation of a celebrity myth. "Heart," an irresistible homage to hope that will echo in your head for days after, celebrates persistence in glorious, four-part harmony. Sung by Alstat, Dalli and Rains, who hit all the right emotional notes, the ballads "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You" are homespun testaments to enduring love sung by (mostly) middle-aged characters who know of what they speak.
Several political references elicited laughs, but felt forced. A haze effect prompted audience giggles I don't think the designers intended. And it's probably best to gloss over some of the more puzzling plot points.
But overall, Vásquez's pace is swift and his staging is sound. Jesse Klug's lighting is suitably dramatic and Tyler Hanes' playful choreography embodies the joy of adults fortunate enough to earn a living playing a well-loved game.
We should all be so lucky.