Also see Susan's review of Les Misérables
With the triumphant return of major league baseball to Washington this past season, the time is especially right for a new local production of the 1955 musical by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop (book) and Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (music and lyrics).
Director Molly Smith has brought both a high gloss and shrewd character insights to the story of Joe Boyd (Lawrence Redmond), a die-hard fan of the hapless Washington Senators in the mid-1950s who rashly offers to sell his soul to help his team beat the hated New York Yankees. An urbane, devilish fellow named Applegate (Brad Oscar) takes him up on the offer, turning the middle-aged fan into a young phenomenon named Joe Hardy (Matt Bogart) who takes the Senators into first place. But when young Joe gets restless, Applegate calls in his own relief pitcher, a hot number named Lola (Meg Gillentine).
Smith understands that fantasy must have its roots in reality, so she plays up the genuine connection between Joe Boyd and his wife Meg (strong, sensitive Kay Walbye). Sure, Lola is a charmer, and Gillentine dances up a storm in the role originated by Gwen Verdon, but Bogart is able to make clear the distinction between immediate physical attraction and a lasting bond in his reactions to the two women.
Oscar – a Washington area native who has built his recent career on the role of Max Bialystock in The Producers on Broadway, on the road, and in London – plays Applegate as a bluff, hearty sort of guy-next-door devil. He commands attention from his first before-the-overture appearance, and sparkles with cheerful malevolence in his solo, “Those Were the Good Old Days.” (Perhaps in the interest of political correctness, Oscar sings only one of the two verses, bringing out in subtext the sense of the words that remain unsung. The omitted verse makes reference to the era’s beliefs that American Indians brutally slaughtered white settlers and cannibals had a habit of devouring missionaries.)
Baayork Lee’s choreography occasionally nods to the great Bob Fosse, whose dances from the original Broadway production live on in the 1958 film version, but she wisely takes matters in different directions. For example, “Whatever Lola Wants” is still a Latin-flavored seduction complete with ruffled skirt and lacy leotard, but now Lola gets some assistance from four adorable devil chorus boys.
On top of everything else, the production looks gorgeous. The costumes by Martin Pakledinaz idealize the era with vibrantly colored shirtwaist dresses and elaborately detailed shoes, and Rachel Hauck’s witty set includes an opportunity for chorus members to dance with portable television sets. Music director George Fulginiti-Shakar keeps things moving with a crisply rehearsed orchestra.