Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Christopher Charles Wood
Damn Yankees at the Paper Mill Playhouse

by Wayman Wong

Also see Bob's review of In This House

Christopher Charles Wood
Christopher Charles Wood plays young Joe Hardy in Paper Mill Playhouse's Damn Yankees, and he's knocking it out of the ballpark. Bob Rendell described his all-star performance as "strongly and stirringly sung throughout," and Peter Filichia of the Newark Star-Ledger raves that Wood's "voice could reach the upper deck of Yankee Stadium."

The 6-foot phenom from Dublin, Ohio, might be a rookie at the Paper Mill, but he possesses the pipes, charisma and good looks to be a most valuable player on Broadway.

I chatted with Wood, 23, about how he brought his A game to Damn Yankees and how fun it is to act "Totally Fucked" in a tour of Spring Awakening that hit over 70 cities in 9 months.

Wayman Wong:  In your Damn Yankees bio, you write: "For my father, who taught me the love of the game." Tell us about him.

Christopher Charles Wood:  My dad [Robert] passed away from a heart attack when he was 59, about 5 months ago. And this is the first show I've done since then. He was in the mortgages and banking industry. He was a numbers guy, so he loved stats. And he loved baseball. He was a lifelong Yankees fan. I played baseball all the way until the end of high school, so my whole childhood was spent playing catch with my dad in the backyard. I remember when I would go to batting cages when I was 4-foot-5. He always made me use a wooden bat because that was what he always used. There was a time in my early teens when I wanted to play professional baseball. But by high school, I realized I really wanted to act. And now here I am in Damn Yankees, doing both.

WW:  Are you still a Yankees fan? And if so, have you got a favorite player?

CCW:  I love Derek Jeter. That's my guy. It's the whole package. He seems like a good guy, and in his best years, he had amazing stats as a fielder and a batter. I also love Nick Swisher for his personality. He's the one making the jokes.

WW:  Is your portrayal of Joe Hardy based on any real-life ballplayers?

CCW:  Hardy's probably closest to Mickey Mantle. Statistically, he's one of the strongest baseball players in history. Also, it's about how quickly America ate him up as this icon for young boys.

WW:  What's it been like making your debut at Paper Mill?

CCW:  I love the theater, from the creative team to everyone who actually makes the show happen. Everyone I've encountered is glad to be here. It's one of the most cohesive groups I've ever worked with. The crew is just a charming bunch of guys, and the cast all gets along beautifully.

WW:  What's it like working with Howard McGillin, who plays the devilish Mr. Applegate?

CCW:  Howard's terrific. He's so much fun. He's got such a good heart. He's a caring man and it comes through in his work.

WW:  Damn Yankees is not your typical Broadway musical in that the romantic duets are between a young man and an older woman. In this case, it's Joe Boyd's wife, Meg (played by Patti Cohenour).

CCW:  Absolutely. It's a very unusual relationship. If there is a sexual edge to the ballads between young Joe and Meg, the audience gets a little spooked. You need to recognize Meg's almost maternal instincts. Her Joe is gone, but Joe Hardy has the same kind of energy that Joe Boyd has. It's sweet to see Joe Boyd, in the body of Joe Hardy, trying to reach out, without totally scaring her.

WW:  Speaking of being sexually edgy, what was it like to play Melchior in Spring Awakening?

CCW:  It was incredible. But we had mixed reactions. In Los Angeles, they loved us, and when Hanschen and Ernst kiss, the audience was cheering. And then there were cities where they weren't having it. We'd walk out for "The Guilty Ones," the first number in act two, and half the house would be gone. That's part of the beauty of theater. Not everyone's going to respond the same way.

WW:  Some audience members got to sit onstage with you. Any unusual experiences?

CCW:  One woman had a seizure. I guess it was due to the lighting in "The Dark I Know Well." There were too many strobes for her. We had to stop the show and find a doctor. And there was some inappropriate groping by another couple. They had to be asked to leave. And one young guy was a little too into touching himself and tried to join us when we performed "Totally Fucked."

WW:  "Totally Fucked" looks like the coolest number to perform. What's it like?

CCW:  There is no greater thrill than to pull a handheld microphone out of your jacket and bust into one of the best rock songs in the musical-theater world. It was a blast to do every single night.

WW:  By the way, didn't you meet your girlfriend, Erin Burniston, on the Spring Awakening tour?

CCW:  No, we started dating at Elon University [in Elon, N.C.]. When they cast it, they didn't know we were together. She was Wendla's understudy, so we got to go on together, and it was fun.

WW:  I've heard clips of you performing in Kiss Me Kate and a hilarious version of "I, Don Quixote" from Man of La Mancha at Elon. I hear Howard Keel or Richard Kiley in your voice.

CCW:  Those are some of my favorite voices of that era. I live in the bass-baritone world. And those voices lend themselves best to darker material.

WW:  And you got to do Sweeney Todd at Elon. How exciting was that?

CCW:  Omigosh. Sweeney Todd is my favorite Sondheim show. As an actor, I feel the music writing is so intelligent that you almost don't have to do any work. You just absorb the underscore and sing the lyrics. That show is full of gems for the actor playing Sweeney. Like where he's singing "Johanna" and slitting throats in act two. I also got to play John Wilkes Booth in Assassins.

WW:  There's gotta be a way to get you on Broadway.

CW:  That's the goal. But it's kind of hard to find roles that look for my physical type but don't require a high C. Guys like Aaron Tveit, Cheyenne Jackson or Jonathan Groff are amazingly talented guys with high voices. And I agree that there's nothing more thrilling than to hear powerful voices singing those high notes, but I don't have them. But if they need lower notes, I'm there.

WW:  To bring everything back to Damn Yankees, is there anything you'd sell your soul for?

CW:  Maybe to be a Yankee slugger.

Damn Yankees plays through April 1 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.;

Wong edits entertainment for the New York Daily News and is an award-winning playwright.

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