“Those Damn Yankees! Why can’t we beat ‘em?!” exclaims Joe Boyd at the start of “Damn Yankees”–the classic musical performing at the landmark “Plummer Auditorium” in Fullerton California. Produced by 3-D Theatricals, the show opened on July 12th for a three-week run before moving to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” in Redondo Beach California. Based on Douglass Wallop’s novel “The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant”, the story is a delightful updating of the old “Faustian” legend—this time concerning what one long-suffering fan of the “Washington Senators” would do to help his team win. With a book by Wallop and theatrical giant George Abbott, and featuring music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the show first debuted on Broadway in 1955 and went on to win seven “Tony Awards” including “Best Musical”. Now, given the first-class, ‘Pennant-winning’ treatment 3-D Theatricals has given this classic bit of Americana, is it’s easy to see why!
Once the curtain rises we’re transported to a Washington D.C. suburban living-room circa 1955 where married, middle-aged Boyd is an avid supporter of the rag-tag ball club the “Senators” and has yet again been disappointed by the outcome of that night’s game. Shortly after his wife Meg departs, he murmurs to himself how he’d ‘sell his soul’ for someone to help the home team out of its slump. Immediately, the Devil in the unassuming guise of a ‘Brooks Brothers’ suit wearing salesman named “Applegate”, appears with just such a deal (“I’m handy with fire” he tells Joe upon making a lit cigarette materialize from thin air.) The deal has Boyd turned into a 22-year old long-ball hitting phenom named “Joe Hardy” who easily puts the “Senators” back on track for the “World Series”; but of course, as these things always do, there’s a price: he must leave his beloved wife and deal with a suspicious Sports-writer named “Gloria Thorpe”, while fending off the advances of Applegate’s sizzling hot seductress, “Lola” (who “Always gets what she aims for!”) Alan Souza’s direction is always fluid and inventive—making this timeless piece of musical theater fresh and new while still staying true to the original charms that made it great.
In fact, his innovative staging is apparent right from the first ‘inning’ where he has baseball literally invading the Boyd home with the opening salvo, “Six Month Out Of Every Year”, wherein Meg complains “six months out of every year we are hardly ever seen apart, but then the Washington Senators take over my place in his heart.” As she’s joined by a chorus of like-minded housewives, he’s surrounded by the Senators themselves enacting their best moves in this stirring start of the evening. Serving as a succulent cherry on this already sumptuous Sundae, is the absolutely dynamic–and at times, down-right eye-popping–choreography by three-time “Ovation” Award-winner Dana Solimando, who has been more than capably assisted by Gretchen Dawson as Assistant Choreographer. Incorporating plenty of acrobatics, even the first scene change introducing Hardy’s new team-mates is athletic! Then, one of the most amazing moves in this (or any) show, occurs during the big “Shoeless Joe” number as the players form a ‘human staircase’ which Gloria Thorpe dashes up and onto a second level bleacher before turning and diving back into the guys who readily catch her. Throughout, Solimando pays plenty of terpsichorean tribute to “Damn Yankees” original choreographer and master showman, Bob Fosse.
Jordan Lamoureux oozes with slimy charm as the ‘Devilish’ “Mr. Applegate” in a portrayal that’s utterly spot-on on every level; count on him to nearly stop the show with his thrilling “Vaudeville” inspired act-two ode to villainy throughout the ages, “Those Were The Good Old Days”—complete with pyrotechnics and built-in encores that are completely deserved!
As Joe Boyd, Robert Hoyt has a rich operatic voice which he puts to superb use with the opening “Six Months Out Of Every Year” and “Goodbye Old Girl”, but more than just providing the show with its framework, Director Souza wisely brings him back to be heard again in the second act’s “Near To You”—traditionally a duet between Joe Hardy and Meg, here an inspiring ‘trio’ with Meg, Hardy, and ‘the Spirit’ of Joe Boyd. Cameron Bond too, as Boyd’s young alter–ego “Joe Hardy” is a high-octave vocal presence to be reckoned with for his part in that fore-mentioned trio as well as in the first act’s quick reprise of “Goodbye Old Girl”; he then ‘knocks one out of the park’ with “A Man Doesn’t Know”. Joining them is Cynthia Ferrer as Joe’s ever-patient wife, Meg. Really the leading lady in this venture, Meg provides the goings-on with a sense of nice emotional grounding, and Ferrer does a fine job with “A Woman Doesn’t Know” as well as more than holding her own in “Six Months” and “Near To You”. Likewise, Chelsea Emma Franko is a beautiful bundle of energy as “Gloria Thorpe”, and Alexis Carra’s ‘happy home-wrecker’ “Lola” dazzles in just about every number she’s in, including her enticing introduction “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and the iconic “Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)”, where she’s a little more “Chita Rivera’ than “Gwen Verdon”. In both she offers the show a taste of good-natured ‘risqué’ fun. Ms. Carra also does a superlative job taking center stage with “Who’s Got The Pain?”—usually staged as a rhythmic ‘Pas-de-Deux’, here seen as jiving, gyrating, group effort with Lola accompanied by a passel of bowler-clad chorus boys. Vocally, she also proves she’s also got the fireworks where it counts with her half of the classic duet, “Two Lost Souls” opposite Bond’s Joe Hardy which makes for an impressive ’11 O’Clock Number’, particularly as this old standard provides yet another homage to Fosse as well.
Hardy’s team-mates led by “Smokey” (Chris Duir) “Rocky” (Nick Waaland) and Vernon (Bren Thor Johnson) also hit a few on stage ‘home-runs’ collectively, first with the classic “You’ve Got To Have Heart”, then again while kicking off Act Two with “Think About The Game”. Excellent comic support is similarly provided by Karla Franko and Tamara Zook as Doris and ‘Sister’ Miller respectively. Both do a hilarious job standing out with roles that might otherwise be easily marginalized. On opening night audiences were treated to an additional special appearance by Daniel Rodriguez—better known as “The Singing Policeman”. A first-responder on 9/11 and praised across New York City and beyond for his incredible talent, he opened the evening’s proceedings with a truly rousing rendition of our national anthem before curtain.
Having opened Saturday, July 12th, “Damn Yankees” will play at the “Plummer Auditorium” in Fullerton California through Sunday, July 27,2014. Located at: 201 E. Chapman Avenue, in Fullerton, CA, show-times for “The Plummer Auditorium” engagement are: Friday and Saturday Evenings at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM with additional performances on Thursday, July 24th, at 8:00 and an added Saturday matinée at 2:00 PM on July 26th; then, starting August 2nd,
the production will move to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” in Redondo Beach California, where it will play through Sunday, August 10, 2014. Show-times for this engagement are: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM, with an additional matinée on Saturday, August 9th at 2:00 PM. “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” is located at: 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA. Tickets for both “Plummer Auditorium” and “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” may be purchased by calling 714 589-2770, Ext.1 between the hours of 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM Monday through Friday, and 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM Saturday, or at each individual theater’s box office two hours prior to performances. To order on-line check out: www.3dtshows.com (Group and Student Discounts are available for both locations.) There’s nothing ‘Damnable’ about this “Yankees”—come be transported to a simpler time for a few hours and see this old favorite the way it was meant to be!
Production Stills By Isaac James Creative (www.IsaacJamesCreative.com) Courtesy Michael Sterling at “Michael Sterling Entertainment Publicity & Production” And “3-D Theatricals” (www.3dtshows.com) Special Thanks To T.J. Dawson, Michael Sterling, Alan Souza, Dana Solimando And To The Cast & Crew Of 3-D Theatricals’ “Damn Yankees” For Making This Story Possible.