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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Damn Yankees at
The American Musical Theatre of San Jose

Also see Richard's review of Two for the Seesaw


The American Musical Theatre of San Jose is presenting their best production of the season, Damn Yankees. This production rivals all of the productions that I have seen since 1955. Direction by Dianna Shuster is exemplary.

I saw the original production in 1955 at the 46th Street Theatre in New York with the marvelous Gwen Verdon playing Lola, Ray Walston as the Devil, Stephen Douglas as Joe Hardy and Jean Stapleton as Sister. Just three years later, I had the good fortune to work on the Warner Bros. film version and the studio wisely kept Ms. Verdon, Mr. Walston and Ms. Stapleton in their original roles. The studio gave Tab Hunter the role of Joe Hardy for box office appeal. I also saw the 1994 Broadway revival with Bebe Neuwirth and Victor Garber (and later, Jerry Lewis) at the Marquis Theatre. I have seen the funny Bobby Clark do the role of the Devil here on the West Coast in 1956. So I was looking forward to seeing the AMT version and I was not disappointed.

The plot is basically the old Faustian legend updated into the world of baseball. Joe Boyd is a paunchy middle-aged Washington Senators baseball fan who spends most of his time yelling at the television. He uses the word "hell" a lot. He finally says, "I'd give my soul to the devil if the Senators could beat the Yankees" (and claim the American League title). The Devil himself, in the guise of Mr. Applegate, offers to make Joe the Senators' covert weapon for a pennant victory.

Joe accepts the offer with some provisions, or escape clauses, leaves his wife and goes to the winless Senators' manager who hires him on the spot. The team tags him "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo," and the Senators go on a great winning streak. Everything is just fine except that Joe misses his wife. The Devil calls in his chief assistant, the libidinous Lola, to keep Joe in line, but we all know that true love wins out in the end.

Every role in this AMT production is well cast by the director, and there are no weak performances. Riette Burdick has a pleasingly powerful voice and is completely convincing as the devil's beguiling accomplice. She is terrific as she tears into "A Little Brains - A Little Talent" and the signature song, "Whatever Lola Wants."

The Devil, Mr. Applegate, is played with great panache by Michael G. Hawkins. This devil is more urbane than Victor Garber, Bobby Clark or Ray Walston and less comic then Jerry Lewis. His wisecracks are clever and his timing perfect. His big number, "Those Were the Good Old Days," does lack some of the farcical punch of the prior satans.

Joe Hardy is played by Jim Stanek, properly naive with a puissant voice and especially effective in the song "Good-bye, Old Girl". He shines in "A Man Doesn't Know," the lovely duet, with Lucinda Hitchcock Cone who plays his wife. Ms. Cone is mellifluous in the number.

Jesse Caldwell is very good as the older Joe. His voice is a good counterpart to Jim Stanek in the song "Good-bye Old Girl." Ren Reynolds as the team manager is a good baritone and leads the baseball team in a dynamic version of "Heart," with the chorus in four part harmony. Annmarie Martin as the reporter, Lisa Robinson as the Sister, and popular actor Robert Rossman, who has had a busy season with various roles in regional theater and plays the team's owner here, give very good performances.

The male chorus is top drawer in both dancing and singing. The choreography by Bob Richard is masculine and very professional. This is a chorus of lovable, fresh-faced guys who are properly goofy in the batting practice dances. There are great acrobatics in the "Shoeless Joe" number, and their robust singing is super. The women hold their own in the opening number, "Six Months Out of Every Year". The "Who's Got the Pain?" number could be a little more zippy, and it seems to have been shortened for this show.

There is no doubt about it; overall, this Damn Yankees is a winner. It runs through June 2 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts at 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Call (888)455-SHOW, or (408)998-BASS for tickets. This is the last show of the 2001-2002 season.

Next year the AMT will join with the Nederlander Alliance to present the Broadway touring companies of shows which will include, Swing, Blast, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia!, Aida, Miss Saigon and Sound of Music.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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