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Damn Yankees

The Muny

July 12, 2010

I’m finding it hard to review the Muny’s production of Damn Yankees. I thought it would be easier  than Titanic because I had seen this show before, on stage and on film, but I guess I forgot how long ago I had seen it, because  this time, it really felt like I was stepping into a time machine. Damn Yankees is a classic American musical about the classic American sport–baseball, and how one fan’s devotion to his team brings more than he ever bargained for.  The Muny’s production, directed by their Executive Producer, Paul Blake, is like a step back in time in more ways than one.

The show starts out as Meg Boyd (Linda Mugleston) laments the fact that her husband Joe (Walter Charles) is so obsessed with the Washington Senators baseball team that he ignores her for half the year.  Joe then hastily states that he would sell his soul for one great hitter, and Mr. Applegate (Lewis J. Stadlen) shows up to take him up on that offer.  Joe Boyd is then transformed into young baseball phenom Joe Hardy (Eric Kunze) in a very clever bit of staging (he walks through a doorway as Joe Boyd and walks out as Joe Hardy).  The story then unfolds from there.

I thought this production was, for the most part, a success, despite being obviously dated in terms of how the show is structured.  It was kind of like going back in time to see a show in the late 50’s.  The characterizations were almost universally excellent—especially Stadlen bringing old-style Vaudeville charm as Applegate and Kunze as the earnest young Joe Hardy.  Leslie Kritzer does a nice turn as reporter Gloria Thorpe, leading the baseball team in the rousing ensemble number “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, MO”.  Zoe Vonder Haar also gives a fun performance as Meg Boyd’s friend Sister Miller.  Angie J. Schworer, as the temptress Lola,  was excellent in the second act but in the first act it seemed like she was trying too hard to be like Gwen Verdon, the original Broadway and film Lola, and was not as convincing. The best scenes, I thought, were between Kunze as Joe Hardy and Mugleston as Meg, who does not realize that young Joe is actually her husband.  The chemistry between the actors was lovely.

Another nice time-trip in this production was provided by the choreography, which was re-created from Bob Fosse’s original Broadway work.  The dance routines were mostly executed very well, with highlights including the dance break with the baseball players in “Shoeless Joe”, and the “Two Lost Souls” number with Joe Hardy, Lola, and the ensemble.

St. Louisans, being as crazy as they are about their baseball team, can most likely relate well to the level of baseball devotion depicted in this show.  A nice treat was hearing the beloved Cardinals broadcaster, Mike Shannon, announcing the game as fans listen on the radio in the second act.   That was a very nice way to add a touch of St. Louis to the production, and overall, it was a very enjoyable evening.

NOTE: I thought that the weather on the production night deserved a mention. One of the joys of outdoor theatre is that the elements often contribute to the experience of the show, and on the night I saw Damn Yankees with my family, we were treated to a spectular natural fireworks show as several bolts of lightning shot across the sky directly above the stage. It wasn’t raining enough to stop the show, but the pyrotechnic display was spectacular!

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