Damn Yankees

Words & Music by Richard Adler & Jerry Rosslight opera works

Book by George Abbott & Douglas Wallop

Stage Director & Choreographer Kevin Belle

Conductor Roger L. Bingamen

Produced by Light Opera Works

At Cahn Auditorium, Evanston

Golden Age Broadway musical, Damn Yankees, is a devilish treat!

Damn Yankees, 1955, played to 1, 019 performances on Broadway and won 7 Tony Awards including Best Musical. It is staged in classical Broadway style including a variety of trunk songs with show specific numbers, cornball humor as it richly entertains on several levels.

Damn Yankees is a musical fable with a baseball twist to the legendary Faust myth that uses baseball as the hook. It was the second show (Pajama Game, 1954) that the team of  Richard Adler and Jerry Ross wrote. (Ross died in 1955 at age 29).

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A fanatical Washington Senator baseball fan, Joe Boyd (Kirk Swenk) wants his team to beat the New York Yankees so much that he states that he’d sell his soul to the devil in order for that to happen. Suddenly, Mr. Applegate ( the terrific richly comic Rudy Hogenmiller) appears with an offer to turn Joe into a 22 year old Joe Hardy (Brian Acker) – the greatest slugger baseball has ever seen who would lead the Senators to win the championship. Joe and the Devil make a deal after Joe demands an escape clause right aright before the season’s end. Agreed, old Joe sings “Goodbye Old Girl” with young Joe finishing the haunting ballad.

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The loser Senators get a pep talk from manager Van Buren (Rick Rapp) who introduces the classic motivational song, “Heart” that is a cute rhyming song that speaks to key ingredient of success. “Heart’ is one of several hum-able “take home” songs that will keep buzzing in your head long after see this terrific show!

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When Applegate gets Joe Hardy a tryout with the Senators, his impressive baseball skills get him on the team despite his spikes on fitting him. Baseball reporter Gloria Thorpe (Jenny Lamb) uses her “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO”  to initiate a spectacular dance number that finds the baseball players recreating baseball movements with jumps and twirls to the fine choreography by director/choreographer Kevin Bellie.

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The All-American boy, Joe Hardy quickly become the humble star who ignites the team toward victory to the chagrin  of Mr. Applegate who is determined to corrupt the innocent player. But Joe Hardy pines for his wife as he wonders back to their home and asks to be a border with his ‘old  girl’ wife Meg Boyd ( the winning Judy Knudtson).  Joe sings the haunting lament “A Man Doesn’t Know” to express his loneliness.

But Applegate turns to seductress Lola (Erica Evans) who tells us in “A Little Brains, a Little Talent” that she has the power to corrupt any man.  When she meets Joe hardy in the teams’s locker room, she uses her talents in “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” as she tries unsuccessfully to seduce the pure Hardy into her clutches.

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In typical fashion for Broadway musicals of the Golden Age, act one ends with a Fossee style tango “Who’s Got the Pain” depicting Applegate sending Lola back to hell.

Act Two opens with a cute sing, “The Game” wherein the players lament that they must concentrate on the game and refrain from drinking, gambling, late nights and, of course, sex, so that they can play their best.

Meanwhile, Joe sings “Near to You” to Meg Boyd as he tries to ease her pain from missing old Joe.

Applegate reminiscences “Those Were the Good Old Days” in a pure vaudeville-infused number with hints of Al Jolson. Rudy Hogenmiller struts his amazing talent here to our delight.

Lola and Hardy decide to go out on the town as Hardy’s worries about the accusations thrown at him as a baseball cheat instigated by Applegate. Their “Two Lost Souls”was a sensual delight.

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But, of course, things work out for the best since this is a musical comedy and a pure fable.

Kevin Bellie’s fine direction uses all the original style with Bob Fosse choreography with a few new twists and conductor Roger L. Bingaman has his full orchestra playing the original arrangements that produced an exquisite, jazz infused big-band sound.

Light Opera Works’ production of Damn Yankees  succeeds in presenting the complete original remounting of the 1955 musical deftly

. Rudy Hogenmiller anchors a cast of skilled performers that included a wholesome turn by Brian Acker as Joe Hardy with energetic work from Jenny Lamb as the reporter. Erica Evans was sensual Lola while Judy Knudtson was an appealing Meg.  The ball players were terrific as actors/singer/dancers who together with the ensemble gave depth to the production.

This Damn Yankees is an intentional recreation of the 1955 work, It is rare that you’ll see Damn Yankees with no cuts and with a full orchestra and even rarer  that you’ll see as fine a player as Rudy Hogenmiller playing Mr. Applegate. Damn Yankees is a clever, tuneful nostalgic trip back to the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. It is a trip worth taking.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston,IL,call 847-920-5360, tickets $34 – $94,  Wednesday, June 11 at 2 pm Friday, June 13 at 8 pm, Saturday, June 14 at 8 pm, Sunday, June 15 at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission.