Now that spring has sprung, the boys of summer are back at Coors Field, Sky Sox stadium and ... the Fine Arts Center stage? Well, yes, baseball is in season with the revival of the 1955 musical Damn Yankees. For those of you who aren't musical fans, keep reading, because with its fine acting, energetic music and outstanding cast, Damn Yankees will be an unexpected treat. For those of you who love musical revivals, you can put this on your must-see list.
Where the Europeans have Faust, who bargains with Mephistopheles for greater knowledge, the Americans have Joe Boyd (Richard Bowles) who bargains with Mr. Appelgate (Mark Hennessy) to have his favorite baseball team win the pennant. Yes, we're shallow. Yes, we care more for baseball than for knowledge -- don't you know what's important? Joe, the ultimate middle-aged baseball fan, is perpetually heartbroken that the Washington Senators keep losing to the damn New York Yankees. When Mr. Appelgate appears and offers to turn Joe into just the young slugger the Senators need, Joe takes the bargain, although it means leaving his beloved "old girl" Meg (Sue Bachman).
Much of the pleasure of Damn Yankees comes from its unabashed masculinity. The men's ensemble of the baseball team is especially rewarding to watch and hear as they whack each other with towels and slap one another on the butt, all the while singing in full voice. This is a terrific antidote to the saccharine quality that frequently pervades musicals. That the chorus has some fine dancers and singers who are energetically choreographed by Peter Strand and Zetta Alderman just adds to the testosterone-infused joy of the production.
This cast ably supports the three leads -- young Joe Hardy (Michael Stone), the evil Mr. Appelgate, and Lola (Amy Sue Hardy), the devil's handmaid who is put on assignment to make young Joe forget his frumpy wife. Young Michael Stone has a fabulous voice that he exercises with great control throughout his range, and that belies his deer-in-the-headlights persona. Joe is especially well contrasted by the seductress Lola who is the prototypical 50s vamp, from her pencil-thin eyebrows to her four-inch heels.
Amy Sue Hardy and Mark Hennessy are also an effective duo, with Hennessy's suave, controlling, and slightly fey demeanor (think Hugh Hefner) providing great contrast to Hardy's outrageous sexpot antics. Hennessy is a fine actor, and although his singing voice isn't quite as strong as those of the rest of the leads, his strong characterization sweeps the audience along with him. These folks have clearly studied musical theater and their expertise shows.
Revivals can be difficult. In this case, director Sandra Womochil Bray deserves credit for deftly straddling the line between a parody of the 1950s musical and the revival of it. By overplaying some elements (such as the character of the seductress Lola), and slightly underplaying others (such as the love affair between the middle-aged Joe and Meg), the FAC production of Damn Yankees keeps the energy of the original while poking a little fun at it. It is a neat trick, and a difficult one to pull off.
In the end, however, Damn Yankees is, to quote the director's notes, "FUN FUN FUN!" Just in time for the real butt-slapping towel-smacking baseball season, Damn Yankees give you a dose of the raucous enthusiasm of America's favorite pastime in its 1950s heyday.
-- Andrea Lucard