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A CurtainUp Review
Based on Douglass Wallop's 1954 novel, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, Damn Yankees has a book by George Abbott and Wallop, and a hit-studded score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. It's a classic fifties musical in all its glory and, thanks to John Rando's inspired direction, Encores! has brought out the show's best while resisting the temptation to make meaningless improvements.
The show is of course about an aging baseball fan, Joe Boyd (P.J. Benjamin). He sells his soul to a charismatic devil named Applegate (Sean Hayes) and leaves his beloved wife Meg (Randy Graff) for the chance to help his beloved but bungling Washington Senators defeat the forever victorious Yankees and win the pennant. When the younger Joe Hardy (Cheyenne Jackson), who emerges as the Senators' star player, thwarts Applegate's plan to take over his soul by remaining true to his wife, Applegate brings in the heavy artillery— Lola (Jane Krakowski), the best marriage wrecker on his staff.
The play may be about Joe and his wife, but no matter how convincing and talented the actors who play these parts (and Benjamin, Graff and Jackson are both), it is the devil and his she-devil who always steal the show. Something which Hayes and Krakowski accomplish effortlessly.
Dressed in his snazzy suit with matching red vest, handkerchief and socks, Hayes woos and wows the audience with his dry wit and perfect timing. His show-stopper, "Those Were the Good Old Days," turns the devil into a demented Van Cliburn.
Krakowski is unashamedly politically incorrect as the blonde bombshell with the great body and the golden heart. She also dances and sings her way across the stage in a way that doesn't make us miss Gwen Verdon too much. In supporting roles, Megan Lawrence, deserves mention for her sparkling portrayal of the hardboiled newspaper woman, Gloria Thorpe; as does T. Oliver Read for giving Benny Van Buren so much heart.
Rando has used Bob Fosse's original outstanding choreography, which ranges from the lumbering movements of the baseball players ("Heart") to Lola's sexy strip ("Whatever Lola Wants"). Music director Rob Berman and his orchestra (cleverly placed in the bleachers) once again prove that there's no pit like a New York pit.
The fifties-style production numbers call for many scene changes — the Boyd house, the dugout, the Devil's lair, the stadium, a nightclub — and lots of extravagant costumes. Set designer John Lee Beatty and costume designer William Ivey Long have made the show as attractive to the eye as it is to the ear.
It's very possible that if Damn Yankees were to be presented for the first time today its score, which includes a tango, a mambo, several ballads and a soft-shoe, would be called unfocussed, and its plot would be dismissed as overly sentimental. Fortunately, the show has already earned its place in Broadway's hall of fame. So we can all enjoy the show without reservations.
Thank you Encores!