Damn Yankees, book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; based on the novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant" by Douglass Wallop. Directed by Jim Kidd.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Those were the good old days..."
A good musical that tugs at your heartstrings twice - or more - is a wonderful thing. Damn Yankees at the MacHaydn manages to pull that off in spite of everything else that happens, or nearly happens during the two hours and forty-three minutes it takes to complete this musical theater journey. Near the end of the first scene young Joe (Hardy) leaves his wife, Meg (Boyd), of over twenty-five years to pursue his dream. As he finishes his song "Goodbye, Old Girl," and rushes off to confront his promised future he leaves behind a sadness that comes into play two more times before Joe (Boyd) returns home to his wife and begs her help in keeping him there, snug in a safe harbor. In this show, a good old-fashioned vehicle (they don't write them like this anymore) we are transported back to an earlier time, perhaps a better one but certainly a good one.
Monica M. Wemitt has as much to do with this reaction as the material she sings. Her deeply saturated reading of three songs adds immeasurably to their resonance and even her lack of presence at the end of scene one isnít actually a presence problem. She is being sung to, serenaded, and she cannot hear it. That tugs at the heart just as much as the emotional depths of her own singing and acting later on. She is a wonderful Meg, with not enough to do, but doing all that she does to bring the level of this theater up to professional standards. Not since her Lizzie in "110 in the Shade" has she been this remarkably good in a role at this theater.
She is joined by two versions of her man, Monk Schane-Leydon as Joe Boyd, her husband, and Jon Reinhold as Joe Hardy, her friend. Both men give much to her in their performances. Schane-Leydon is perhaps the weaker of the two with only the opening and closing scenes in which to help us understand and sympathize with him. Reinhold has the rest of the show in which to explore his relationship with Schane-Leydonís wife.
This trio of players is about the best this show gets in its large truckload of players. There are a few standout performers in the company and they include Colleen Gallagher as Gloria whose triumphant "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO" in Act One is nearly a show-stopper and Shawn Morgan whose Van Buren, the baseball teamís coach sings a rollicking "Heart" which clearly inspires - forget the director and choreographer - a team and then another team of a different sort to sing a philosophical ditty about fortitude. Both Gallagher and Morgan can act too, and that makes things so much better than they might have been.
Disappointing in their roles were Andrea Doto as Lola and David Bondrow as Applegate. Generally seen as the star roles, these two performers do not live up to expectations. Bondrow isnít bad, but in fact he just isnít bad enough. This devil of a role requires a sardonic quality that Bondrow doesnít even aspire to; he seems to be too busy becoming endearing. Sadly that approach wasnít even funny and funny is an aspect of Applegate that needs emphasizing, for humor is how this devil deflects discovery.
Doto has a bigger problem in her role. She isnít sexy, she doesnít dance attractively, she doesnít sing with "heart" or even with emphasis on the meaning; sheís a cling-to-the notes girl. Her costumes donít flatter her slightly tubby midriff. Her acting ability is still in the formative stages and she canít deliver a comic line with the clarity she needs to get a laugh. She is just not ready for this role.
Ben Jacoby delivers nicely as Rocky and though Cori Cable Kidder is too young, too pretty and to good a singer to be the character Sister is intended to be, she was fun to watch and to listen to. Her cohort playing Doris, Brittany Weir, has even more problems being believable as the older woman she canít pull off yet.
The chorus sang wonderfully, danced some delicious variations designed for this small round stage by Ryan VanDenBoom and provided enough to watch to distract most of the audience from realizing the shortcomings in the principals.
Nice costumes by Eric Franzen, sans girdles, defined the characters well. Jim Kidd moved his characters in and out of moments beautifully and easily but he could have devoted a bit more time to character development, although the difficulties of doing this show in the round must have made his life a living hell. Especially with Applegateís magic tricks.
A great score and a fun book are given a mixed message in this production. Still worth seeing even if not a great evening of theater, Damn Yankees wonít completely disappoint, but it wonít completely satisfy either.
Jon Reinhold and Monica M. Wemitt; photo provided
David Bondrow as Applegate; photo provided
Damn Yankees plays through August 1 at the MacHaydn Theatre on Rte. 203 just north of Chatham, NY. For information and tickets call 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org.