Theater Review: DAMN YANKEES (Musical Theatre West)

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by Tony Frankel on October 21, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles

A THREE-HOUR HOME RUN

Clearly and cleanly, tried and true director Cynthia Ferrer and choreographer Alexis Carra Girbés trust the heart out of Adler and Ross’s 1955 Broadway classic, Damn Yankees. Musical Theater West’s fall treat at Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach is glowing and glorious fun. Their faithful recreation gets richly rewarded by complete and accurate orchestrations brought to vivid glory by conductor Matthew Smedal, clever 50s’ costumes by Amy Setterlund, and the sheer verve of music and movement. It never strikes out, hits for the bleachers, and scores big in every inning — I mean, scene. In MTW’s seasons of surefire musicals, this easily makes the top tier.

The Cast of Damn Yankees

Also at the top is Broadway’s Lesli Margherita returning to MTW as the temptress Lola. I’ve’ seen her in many shows (Man of La Mancha at MTW), but this is the first time I’ve seen her dance it up. This triple-threat has more than just “a little brains, a little talent” with a voice here that is part sex kitten and part boozy dame. Vamping up a storm with cuddly but carnivorous sexual shenanigans (“Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”), she’s fun and silly and real in the slinky, inspired dances “Who’s Got The Pain?” and “Two Lost Souls.”

Lesli Margherita and James Olivas

Invigoratingly grafting the legend of Faust onto the national pastime, Damn Yankees tests both the love and the loyalty of a middle-aged baseball fan-atic, Joe Boyd of Chevy Chase, Maryland, who sells his soul to Lucifer (aka Mr. Applegate) in order to regain his youth. He simply has to help his lovable Washington Senators in a pennant race with a still-despised New York sports monopoly. (The musical is based on The Year The Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglas Wallop, who co-wrote the script with George Abbot.) But the devil didn’t make him do it — Joe’s sell-out is a pure offering that just may save the season — as well as his his marriage. Ingeniously, the plot tests the marriage twice — when a young Joe appears as a stranger to his pining wife Meg and when he meets the infernal seducer Lola.

Jeff Skowron and Norman Large

There’s hardly a foul ball in this fervently faithful original restoration, which, unlike the 2001 Broadway revival, doesn’t rush the story to an abrupt conclusion or feature an oxygen-sucking Jerry Lewis, a human black hole whenever he appeared. Never condescending to these accessible characters, Ferrer’s staging downplays any smarminess that could easily spoil the sweetness. She matches the right look with a ton of heart in this struggle for Joe’s soul.

Norman Large, Teri Bibb, and James Olivas

An impish comic who serves up both ham and hubris, Jeff Skowron is a wickedly efficient devil as he struts his smooth satanic stuff in the vaudeville ballad “Those Were the Good Old Days.” The mortals are richly depicted by Norman Large as good old Joe, the great Teri Bibb, who stepped out of Father Knows Best but with a deep soul, as his unquestioning but frustrated lifemate, Meg, and strapping, handsome and hunky James Olivas who sings the soul out of young Joe’s beautiful ballads — a lesser-known song with his still-elderly wife, “Near to You,” is total tenderness, equaled only by the heartfelt “A Man Doesn’t Know What He Has Till He Loses It.” He also dances terrifically in the slinky, inspired “Two Lost Souls.”

The boys of Damn Yankees

The big blessing here is the hard-hoofing ensemble: the dances are a force of joy propelled to perfection. The domestic romp “Six Months Out of Every Year” is the entire Eisenhower Era set to steps. And your eyes will pop for the huge team of the sharp, sweet, stirring, spirited Washington Senators’  boys — (in alphabetical order) Josh Alvarez, Richard Bulda, Quintan Craig, Cedric Dodd, Alejandro MullerDahlberg, Daniel John O’Connor, Logan Rice, Brandon Keith Rogers, and Julian Xavier. The country jamboree “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” — led by diminutive dynamo Aurelia Michael-Holmgren as prying reporter Gloria — rampages across the huge stage. And, when this huge cast proclaims “You Gotta Have Heart,” they do. We got it.

The Cast of Damn Yankees

photos by Caught In The Moment photography

Musical Theatre West
Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St. in Long Beach
Thurs at 8 (Oct. 20); Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 1 (& 6 on Oct. 23)
ends on October 20, 2022
for tickets, visit Musical.org

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