Musical Theater West Wins Another Grand Slam With Fun DAMN YANKEES

0

When it comes to classic musicals that are almost always guaranteed to bring a smile to the crowds, no matter where you see them—whether as a big-budget Broadway revival or in a local high school auditorium— there’s the 1955 Broadway home run Cursed Yankeesthe Tony Award-winning musical, which cleverly combines show tunes and lines with a Faustian tale revolving around America’s favorite pastime.

With a memorable and now timeless score from the PAJAMA GAME team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and a pleasantly charming (and sometimes surprisingly bawdy) book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop (itself based on Wallop’s own novel The year the Yankees lost the pennant), this cheeky sports-themed musical — which revolves around a rabid baseball fan making a risky deal with the devil himself to ensure victory for his favorite team — is a theatrical experience if dynamic and energetic in design and temperament that he generally coaxes the assured high-energy playing, singing and dancing of his assembled ensemble.

It’s no big surprise, then, that the latest local production of the show currently being presented by Musical Theater West in Long Beach, Calif., is no exception to that expectation.

A truly fun and ecstatic iteration that’s enjoyable from start to finish, MTW’s Broadway-caliber production — now on stage at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center until October 30, 2022 — is a must-see for fans and audiences alike. classic musical beginners.

There’s a lot to love about this awesome new production.

Under the highly caffeinated direction of Cynthia Ferrer (herself a seasoned theater actress), MTW’s engagingly paced DAMN YANKEES never ceases to be entertaining, providing audiences with a constant abundance of humorous exchanges and scenes, truly tender and plenty of thrill, athletically stunning musical numbers dynamically choreographed by Alexis Carra Girbés (nodding meaningfully to the work of the original production’s genius choreographer, Bob Fosse).

Hearing the classic Adler and Ross score performed live by a full orchestra (a rarity on Broadway these days) is also a luxury treat here, with Music Director Matthew Smedal ensuring audiences can revisit and revel in reveling in the restored splendor of the score (which, of course, explains why patrons happily hummed tunes from the show during intermission and after final bows).

Visually, the production offers top-notch theatrical amenities that include sets designed and reconfigured by Kevin Clowes, vibrant period costumes designed by Amy Setterlund, and brilliant lighting designed by Paul Black. I especially liked seeing the clever idea that the road to and from “hell” is simply a smoky, flame-lined stairway leading up to the gloomy blackness of the Carpenter Center orchestra pit.

And, perhaps best of all, this all-around outstanding production also boasts a lively and wonderfully engaging ensemble cast that moves and sounds like they not only have been playing these roles forever, but also had a great time with the material.

That palpable sense of fun and cheekiness bursts from every corner of this production.

This marvel, of course, starts at the top, highlighted by the spectacular leads among its winning company: local scene favorite Jeff Skowron, who stars as the devil-ish Mr. Applegate with a funny and petulant and dastardly demeanor; swoon-worthy triple threat James Olivas, who plays affable late-night superstar Joe Hardy, blessed with a matinee good looks paired with a mellow voice; and, finally, the ultra-fabulous Ovation Award-winning Lesli Margherita is also there, making a triumphant and bawdy return to the MTW Broadway stage to slip into the role of Lola, the diva-licious seductive woman aiming to distract Joe with her fun, sexy, and manipulative ways. With every appearance, especially with the signing of the “Whatever Lola Wants” role, it’s hard to look away because she’s truly made the part her own.

The three in particular make this production worth watching, although there are, naturally, other stars within the company.

The cast of MTW’s DAMN YANKEES. Photo © Taken in the moment

The highly talented Aurelia Michael-Holmgren — one of the series’ many triple threats — arrives on the scene as Gloria Thorpe, a shrewd and feisty reporter armed with a curious nature who immediately suspects something wrong. odd with the sudden meteoric rise of rookie Joe Hardy. His dizzying dance number “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” with the super-amplified baseball team—led by scene-stealers Daniel John O’Connor (Rocky), Julian Xavier (Vernon), and Josh Alvarez (Smokey) — -totally slap.

I especially enjoyed veteran actor Norman Large’s work here as Washington Senators superfan Joe Boyd—the guy who makes a deal with the devil to see his favorite team win and ends up magically transform into Team Joe Hardy’s spunky young ball player. Teri Bibb is also terrific as Joe’s often overlooked but always beloved wife Meg Boyd, who patiently adores her baseball-distracted husband.

One particular number that I really loved was the beautifully staged fantasy trio between Meg de Bibb, OG Joe de Large and young Joe d’Olivas on “Near To You”. This song has never touched me so much in previous productions, so it becomes much more of a new hidden gem to rediscover with how much it resonates here.

But, honestly, this show — and, by extension, this new production — is a hidden gem. The show can’t help it…as old fashioned and traditional as it sounds, DAMN YANKEES is a fun and heartwarming musical that somehow weaves a bit of cheeky modern nastiness into its DNA to balance out the sweetness.

So when we hear the otherwise corny song “(You’ve Gotta Have) Heart” they probably really mean it — both sincerely and with their tongue pressed firmly against their cheek. All in all, this one is a home run for MTW…and that’s coming from someone with no reserved affection for the sport.

Follow this review on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ.

Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theater West.

Performances of Musical Theater West’s production of DAMN YANKEES continue through Sunday, October 30, 2022. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA. For tickets or more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit online at www.musical.org.

Share.

Comments are closed.