THE DEVIL MAKES EM DO IT IN EXCELLENT REVIVAL OF MUSICAL CLASSIC 'DAMN YANKEES'
“Damn Yankees,” the vintage 1955 musical comedy at the Marriott Theatre in suburban Lincolnshire, has it all: a witty book, delicious songs, great choreography, and an excellent chorus. From the days when musical comedies were still rooted in operetta, it is truly musical, packed with memorable songs arranged in beautiful harmonies, and a Faustian storyline that gives heft to the drama.
It’s also very funny. Based on a 1954 novel, it tells the story of Joe Boyd (Ron E. Rains) a middle-aged, very rabid baseball fan who sells his soul to the devil to become a baseball great - Joe Hardy (Andrew Alstat) and drive his beloved but terrible Washington Senators to win a Pennant and break the New York Yankees’ years-long lock on winning.
It’s wonderful to see “Damn Yankees” revived in such a definitive production. It is revisited less often than other Tony winning musicals from its era, like Richard Rodgers “South Pacific” (1949) or Frederick Lowe’s “My Fair Lady” (1956) and Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” (1957). Perhaps it’s the challenge of creating a convincing chorus of baseball players who can sing, dance and play ball - but director James Vasquez and choreographer Tyler Hanes have built a winning team here.
“Damn Yankees” breaks out of the box with a big number - Six Months Out of Every Year - featuring a quartet of male fans in dueling counterpoint melodies sung by a quartet of their wives, who lament their husbands’ preoccupation with the baseball. “When I’m with him, I’m alone” laments Joe’s wife, Meg Boyd—Daniella Dalli, a rich sonorous singer, carries this classic as well as her major more romantic number beautifully.
Soon enough the silky smooth, fast talking devil Applegate—Sean Fortunato is a scene stealer, and knows how to get the audience roaring with his sly humor. After he seals the deal and transforms Boyd into the batting wonder Joe Hardy, Applegate sees he must fully corrupt his soul to lock him in as a future denizen of hell.
Enter Lola. Michelle Aravena recreates a character made indelible by the original performance by Gewn Verdon on stage and screen. And she so truly does it, in spades. This Lola is not mimicking Verdon, but is an original creation that I think may be even better than Gwwn Verdon’s original. Aravena’s arrival is like a vixen jumping from a birthday cake, and wins the attention of all eyes and ears when she is on stage. She sings and dances—”A Little Brains” and the tango classic “Whatever Lola Wants”—all real time excellence, in one of the most demanding roles on stage.
The baseball chorus is also notably good and convincingly athletic—dance captain is Brian Bandura—with a show-stopping jump rope performance by Ben Broughton. From living room to locker room, the vintage in-through-round Marriott Theatre (originally Drury Lane North) showcases this production of “Damn Yankees” with flair, and nary a bad seat. Highly recommended, “Damn Yankees” runs through June 4 @MarriottTheatre