Damn Yankees at Village Theatre
Also see David's review of Ruthless!
Village Theatre closes out its season with a near homerun of a production of that venerable fifties musical fantasy Damn Yankees. A nearly ideal cast, smooth and sprightly direction and choreography by Steve Tomkins, and a very successful production design are the keynotes of this chuckle fest, with more than a little heart.
David Wilson and Anna Lauris
Damn Yankees - here using the original 1955 book by George Abbott rather than the nineties revival version - is the fanciful tale of Joe Boyd, a middle-aged baseball fanatic who bargains with the devil to help his home team, The Washington Senators, best the New York Yankees in the pennant race. Joe (now known as Joe Hardy) has an out-clause, and the devil (a certain Mr. Applegate) tries to ensure Joe's downfall by enlisting his sexy assistant, Lola. True love, in the form of Joe's devoted wife Meg, wins out, but not before Lola, the ballplayers and others get to strut their stuff through a still pleasing Richard Adler and Jerry Ross score that is nearly as good as the duo's first collaboration, The Pajama Game (Ross's death at an early age ended the happy collaboration). Damn Yankees was also the show that gave Gwen Verdon her first Broadway star turn, and solidified Bob Fosse as a Broadway choreographer of the highest order.
The heartiest laughs in the show belong to Timothy McCuen Piggee as Applegate. There isn't a better musical theatre leading player in Seattle, and Piggee knows how to play outsized characters without becoming obnoxious. His "Those Were the Good Old Days" solo is his only vocal in the show, but it brings down the house. Anna Lauris shows her versatility again, after a holiday run as Village's Maria in The Sound of Music. She makes Lola her own, a bit softer around the edges than the Verdon model, but no less satisfying. Her two big solos, "A Little Brains - A Little Talent" and "Whatever Lola Wants," are as satisfying renditions as you could ask for. She and David Wilson as young Joe Hardy also lead the ensemble in the spirited beatnik-riff "Two Lost Souls" late in act two. Wilson, this season's resident young male lead at Village, has the right look, demeanor and above all voice for Joe Hardy, and in addition to Lauris he is well-matched by Frances Leah King in a beautifully honed acting/singing turn as old Joe's compassionate wife Meg. Meg is the heart of the story and King's performance is the emotional center of this production.
Angie Louise sells the oddly developed role of newshound Gloria Thorpe with complete brassy professionalism, and kicks up her heels with the solid ensemble of baseball players in the "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo." production number. Standouts amongst the ballplayers are Art Anderson and Bob Borwick as dim-bulb teammates Rocky and Smokey, who lead the standout act two number "The Game." John X. Deveney is solid as team coach Benny Van Buren, leading "You Gotta Have Heart," and Neil Badders impresses in his "Goodbye, Old Girl" vocal, even if his portrayal of Old Joe is rather pedestrian. One can't fail to single out the gut-bustingly funny supporting turns of Carolyn Magoon and Laurie Clothier as Meg's bridge partners Sister and Doris, and they make the "Heart" reprise - staged hilariously by Tomkins as a mock-ballet turn - a showstopper.
The show clips along well, though it would have profited by omitting the initial rendition of the ballad "A Man Doesn't Know" (it's repeated almost instantly anyway) or the gratuitous act one closer "Who's Got the Pain?," a Verdon specialty number that simply falls flat with anyone else doing it. Musical director Bruce Monroe gets a great sound out of all the vocalists, though his pit band is a bit lackluster at times.
Technically, the show scores a homerun from Bill Forrester's swell Technicolor-hued cartoon style sets to Greg Sulivan's handsome lighting to Deane Middleton's perfectly observed kitschy fifties costumes.
If you can't get tickets to a Seattle Mariner's game this summer (and the M's fittingly played those Damn Yankees the week this show opened), this show is a happy alternative.
Damn Yankees runs through June 22, at the Village Theatre, 303 Front St. in Issaquah, WA and July 11-July 27 at Everett Performing Arts Center, Everett, WA. For further information, visit Village Theatre's website at www.villagetheatre.org.