Saturday, March 24, 2012

theatre review DAMN YANKEES, Paper Mill Playhouse, March 17

The revival of Damn Yankees at the Paper Mill Playhouse is a perfect example of the kind of show that Paper Mill manages to always do a good job with.  It's a familiar Broadway show with several well known songs,  a mostly good cast, nice sets, choreography and overall makes an enjoyable night out at the theatre.

Nancy Anderson and the ensemble
The main plot of Damn Yankees focuses on baseball obsessed middle aged Joe Boyd who sells his soul to the devil to be young again and play for his favorite team to help them win the pennant. Of course once he is the younger Joe Hardy he realizes that what is most important to him might just be the life he left behind.  Can Joe win the pennant and take the escape clause he signed with the Devil to return to his old life in time or will the devil do everything he can to keep Joe's soul?  You can kind of guess how the show will end but it doesn't always go exactly the way you think it will.  This show had a major Broadway revival in 1994 where the book was changed somewhat and this production seems to have combined elements of both productions. However, the age of the book is really beginning to show with several plot points basically missing, or glossed over, which makes you wonder why audiences in 1955, when this originally premiered, never questioned some of the finer plot elements of the show.  It is still a fun, enjoyable show with some well known songs but, in my opinion, not one of the best musicals ever written.

Christopher Charles Wood and Chryssie Whitehead
Fortunately the score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross has some great songs.  "Heart," "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets," "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo," "Goodbye Old Girl" and "Two Lost Souls" are all good musical theatre songs.  Adler and Ross had a big Broadway hit just a year before Damn Yankees with The Pajama Game but then Ross suddenly died shortly after Yankees opened.  He was only 29.  One can only wonder what future scores the two of them would have created if Ross hadn't died at such a young age.

Director Mark S. Hoebee has assembled a pretty good cast for the show.  Howard McGillin is having a devilish time as Applegate, the devil, and Joseph Kalinski and Patti Cohenour are touching as the older Joe and his wife Meg.  Christopher Charles Wood is making a very good Paper Mill debut as Joe Hardy.  He looks exactly like a young ball player, has a rich and pure singing voice and perfectly delivers in the more dramatic acting moments when he is with Cohenour.  The two of them have several touching scenes together.  Nancy Anderson is fun and brassy as the ballsy female reporter Gloria but Chryssie Whitehead as Lola, the femme fatale the devil calls upon to attempt to keep Joe's soul his, is just ok.  Whitehead is a lovely and talented girl but lacks the sexual charisma necessary to make the character what she needs to be.  She is too much of a "good girl" even when she is trying to be bad.  And while she is a very competent dancer she isn't really given a lot of choreography to show off what she is capable of.

Howard McGillin
Fortunately the lovely voices of Wood and Cohenour are well represented on several songs and the male ensemble and Nancy Anderson get a lot of fun choreography to show off their abilities.  Denis Jones provided the choreography and there were lots of different styles represented effectively including a fun vaudeville style turn for McGillin.

Sets by Rob Bissinger, costumes by Alejo Vietti and lighting by Tom Sturge are the usual top notch elements that the Paper Mill is known for and I did like how the ensemble cast looked like they could actually be baseball players instead of being cast with guys with your typical Broadway dancer builds.  Having a short and slightly stocky guy who is the catcher on the team dance and jump in line with his fellow more athletically inclined teammates provides a huge element of fun to the show.

Damn Yankees plays through April 1st.

Official Paper Mill Playhouse Site

Highlights from the production:

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