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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 4, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 18
Damn Yankees devilishly delightful
Arts & Entertainment
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Damn Yankees devilishly delightful

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

Damn Yankees
5th Avenue Theatre
Through May 20


Webster's Dictionary defines something as a 'classic' when it is 'judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality.' When it comes to theater, the 1955 George Abbott/Douglas Wallop musical Damn Yankees definitely fits the bill. An updated retelling of the Faust legend, this show not only introduced legendary theatrical couple Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, but also has given birth to some of the most beloved songs of the American stage. The 5th Avenue Theatre is currently presenting their new production of this classic musical, and it is a hell of a production at that.

The plot (originally based on Wallop's story, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant) revolves around Joe Boyd, a middle-aged real estate agent who lives and dies as a devoted fan of the Washington Senators baseball team. After declaring that he'd 'sell his soul' to see his team beat the infamous Yankees, the mysterious Mr. Applegate appears and accepts his offer. He transforms Joe into a young baseball protégé named Joe Hardy, and quickly the Senators are lead to victory. When Joe starts to long for his former life, Applegate brings in his sinful star seductress Lola to lure Joe back again.

The two leads are the tempting couple, Mr. Applegate (Hans Altwies) and his servant, Lola (Chryssie Whitehead). Hans Altwies is devilishly charming as the man negotiating for Joe Boyd's soul. He plays the con man like a Vaudeville pro, oozing smarminess without overdoing it with too much shtick. Altwies' voice is easy to listen to, and he sings the role with certain grace. Whitehead plays Lola so well it's easy to see why anyone would succumb to her temptations. Reprising her role from the prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse, Whitehead's Lola is a pure sex kitten from hell! Her voice is strong, and she shows how in-control she is of her instrument during the several numbers that allow her to shine. From the seductive 'Whatever Lola Wants' to the sympathetic 'Two Lost Souls,' Whitehead shows us how to portray an iconic role and still make it her own.

The man at the middle of the temptation is Joe Hardy played by Christopher Charles Wood. Wood also repeats his role from the Paper Mill Playhouse and again, it is easy to see why. He is a man handsome in both physical appearance and vocal skill. His stage presence adds a youthful confusion to the ingénue ball player, and the audience empathizes with both his temptation and his devotion. But it is when he opens his mouth to sing that his voice is very reminiscent of a 'crooner' of past years, ringing out in a baritone that is easy to understand and a pleasure to hear. When he sings 'A Man Doesn't Know,' the audience feels his torn loyalty to the woman he loves and the baseball team he's devoted to.

The supporting cast is highly enjoyable as well. Patti Cohenour plays Meg Boyd, the wife who is left behind when her husband becomes Joe Hardy. There is an empathetic humor shared in her musical lamentation, 'Six Months Out of Every Year,' while her character complains about being ignored during baseball season. Carol Swarbrick plays Sister, a devoted baseball fan along with Doris (played by Julie Briskman). Swarbrick is obviously Seattle's answer to the talented character actress Mary Wickes. When paired with Briskman, the two ladies share a wonderful sense of comedic timing and you can tell they are enjoying themselves on the stage. The baseball players (led by dance captain David Alewine) all work together without anyone stealing scenes. They perform well and all excel, especially during the team numbers, 'The Game,' and the unofficial theme of the show, 'You Gotta Have Heart.'

Damn Yankees originally opened on Broadway May 5, 1955, and ran for more than 1,019 performances. With music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the book was by Douglas Wallop (based on his original story) and the show's director, the impresario George Abbott. The musical would be Bob Fosse's second Broadway credit as choreographer and would introduce him to his future wife Gwen Verdon, the star of the show. The original cast also included Ray Walston (Mr. Applegate) and Jean Stapleton (Sister). The musical would be nominated for nine Tony Awards in 1956, and would win seven of them, including Best Actress in a Musical (Verdon), Best Actor in a Musical (Walston), and Best Musical of 1956. A film version was released in 1958 with most major characters repeating their roles (with the exception of Tab Hunter playing Joe Hardy in the film). In 2009, it was rumored a new film version was planned, starring Jim Carrey as Mr. Applegate and Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Hardy.

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