Douglas Wallop’s enjoyable yarn, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” became the comedically memorable musical morality play “Damn Yankees,” first produced on Broadway in 1955, and as a film in 1958.
Now, a slam-bang presentation has found new life at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.
Inspired by the legend of Faustus, who sold his soul in return for earthly pleasure, the action commences during a summer in the mid-1950s, the Washington Senators firmly hugging last place in the standings. Joe Boyd is their most passionate fan. Intently watching a game on television Joe gripes, “You’re blind, Ump! You’re blind, Ump! You must be outta your mind, Ump!” as his wife, Meg, laments how, “Six months out of every year, I might as well be made of stone.”
Hearing Joe ardently swear that he’d sell his soul for one long-ball hitter, a certain Mr. Applegate appears, promising Joe that he can do just that — in return for his aforementioned soul. It’s the first step in Applegate’s diabolical plot to welcome thousands of damned, despairing souls to Hell when Washington loses the pennant to the hated Yankees.
In Redondo Beach, 3D Theatricals’ superb production of “Damn Yankees” is a feast for eyes and ears.
The well-lit minimalist sets take theatregoers to Joe’s middleclass suburban home, the ballpark, and even to a brief sojourn in the anteroom of Hell. The ensemble cast is wonderfully, and athletically, energetic as they dance, leap and cartwheel about the stage. Displaying the haplessness of the Senators, they comedically bump into each other, dash about in wrong directions, and watch a fly ball drop, untouched, twenty feet away.
Each of the principal and supporting players has a magnificent voice. Robert Hoyt and Cynthia Ferrer as Joe and Meg Boyd are convincing as an average married couple in mid-’50s America — a somewhat difficult feat in today’s secularist, morally challenged USA. Joe Hart is particularly adept in giving life to Senators manager Van Buren, especially when inspiring his foundering team members in singing, “You’ve Gotta have Heart!”
Tamara Zook and Karla Franko, respectively, are amusing as Meg’s friends, Sister and Doris. Chelsea Emma Franko, as sports reporter Gloria Thorpe, stunningly belts out “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo” but, in later scenes, her character gets lost in directorial clutter. Deftly avoiding caricature, Alexis Carra is positively stunning. Flawlessly singing and dancing as Lola, she effectively interprets Bob Fosse’s original choreography.
Cameron Bond displays equal skill in making Joe Hardy a three-dimensional character of charm and grace. Looking properly Mephistophelian, Jordan Lamoureux is, alas, not very convincing in the first half of the show as Mr. Applegate, throwing away one line after another which should have been laugh-provokers. He comes close to making up for it in the second half with his show-stopping rendition of the play’s most hilarious song, “Those Were the Good Old Days.”
In pointing out the actors’ flaws above I cannot, in all truthfulness, blame them. The fault lies in the frenetic pace of the show’s first half, an error squarely laid at the door of the director, Alan Souza. All in all, it will not be a wasted effort to attend the show’s final performances since the material pretty much survives his intent to finish up in time to get home for supper.
In an era in which divorce is commonplace and adultery almost a given, it is refreshing to see a husband and wife so devoted to each other that they never even contemplate betraying their vows, “for better or worse.” Still, due to the suggestiveness of some of the dance routines and a somewhat morally compromising nightclub scene, younger children will be better left to savor the joys of Damn Yankees by watching the much more family-friendly film.
The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center is at 1935 E. Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. Performances are Aug. 8, 8 p.m.; Aug. 9, 2 and 8 p.m.; and Aug. 10, 2 p.m. Information: (310) 318-0610 or (714) 589-2770.
Sean M. Wright presents workshops and enrichment courses in Catholic topics at parishes throughout the archdiocese. He replies to comments sent him at [email protected].