As the old show biz saying goes, “Damn Yankees” would be a hit in a phone booth, thanks to its compelling story and its slew of catchy songs.
The story shows the spirit of the 1950s, when the Broadway hit ran for 1,109 performances and took the Tony Award for Best Musical. The New York Yankees ruled the baseball world, as the playbill explains…and fans in other cities dreamed of overthrowing them. Reflecting that era, the current McLean Community Players production scores a solid home run.
Audience member Ariel Gold praised the results by saying, “It’s tons of fun and a great show.” Reflecting her feelings, her toes kept tapping in time to the sprightly songs, along with those of many other spectators.
The fun begins with the first sight of the ushers, in their baseball jerseys, and the orchestra, wearing baseball caps.
Once the curtain rises, the Washington Senators are soon defending their hopeless dreams of defeating those DY’s, with one of musical’s many enduring hits, “You’ve Gotta Have Heart” (“The team has been consistent…yeah, we always lose.”)
The players’ incurable optimism was displayed by the men’s ensemble, consisting of Jack Flatley, Jerry Hoffman, Mike Holland, Neo Libut Jr., Christopher Paul and Jack Posey.
Showing much less enthusiasm, the frustrated housewives of the women’s ensemble threaten their spouses with kitchen utensils, supplied by their imaginative directors, Kevin and Pamela McCormack.
Played by Catherine Callahan, Angelena LeBlack, Jennifer Levy, Maura O’Reilly, Stephanie Pencek and Liz Stark, the frustrated females brandish these household weapons while complaining of the total neglect they suffer during the baseball season, with yet another sprightly hit song, “Six Months Out of Every Year” (“when I’m with him…I’m alone”). And their spouses, in turn, complain just as bitterly about those Damn Yankees.
When one fanatical fan announces that he would sell his soul to beat the Yankees, “Mr. Applegate” (Mike Baker Jr.) steps up to the plate. Also known as “Old Scratch” and “The Prince of Darkness,” he takes Joe Boyd (Hans Bachmann) up on his promise, thus bringing the Faust legend into the sports world.
Winning over the audience (almost) by his sinister smile combined with his sardonic wit, Mr. A., sings the Satanic praises of “Those Were the Good Old Days”…when, for instance, he waxes nostalgic about “that glorious morn…when Jack the Ripper was born.” He also wins laughs with remarks like, “Wives cause me more trouble than the Methodist Church.”
As his wicked plans grow worse and worse, they are reflected by his costumes that grow redder and redder. They begin with a scarlet tie and handkerchief in a conventional grey flannel suit, and evolve until he is finally showing his true colors with his complete crimson couture, all thanks to the equally vivid imagination of costume designer Richard Battistelli.
After transforming Joe Boyd into a much younger Joe Hardy (Tim Adams), Mr. A. summons up the temptress, who is also appropriately garbed in black, white and red.
She sings, dances and pantomimes her planned seduction with enthusiasm and energy, in yet another pair of hit songs, “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” (“…and little man, Little Lola wants you.”) and “A Little Brains, a Little Talent.”
As played by the lovely Annie Ermlick, this Lola seems all too likely to make her plot succeed. Her own talent is aided and abetted by choreographer Kathleen McCormack.
Fortunately, Joe’s wife is on hand, portrayed by Barbara Cobb-Jepperson, who lures him back with her own sweet voice and even nicer nature.
Portraying a nosy news hen, Janette Moman leads the chorus in another toe-tapping tune, “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.”
The audience was invited to share the spirit, by starting the first and second acts by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” just as they would have done in a real baseball stadium. Although many of the spectators would undoubtedly rather be taken out to the theater, to see “Damn Yankees” again.