The secret to doing “Damn Yankees” successfully can be found in a line from its popular song: “Ya gotta have heart.”
Yes, you need a cast full of guys who leap and dance with boyish vigor. You need a Lola in whose hands men might become very silly putty indeed.
CPCC Summer Theatre has both of those things. But its version, which opened Friday under extraordinary conditions, also has heart of a unique kind: the show-must-go-on dedication we hear attributed to actors but seldom witness.
Ron Chisholm had already leaped into the breach once, setting dances after choreographer Eddie Mabry injured himself in a motorcycle accident. When Dennis Delamar fell ill at final dress rehearsal and couldn’t go on, Chisholm took the stage Friday. (Summer Theatre has no understudies.)
He played the devilish Applegate with script in hand and as much savoir-faire as he could muster, although his big number (“Those Were the Good Old Days”) was dropped, and the duet “Two Lost Souls” became virtually a solo for Lola (charismatic Jordan Frazier).
So on some level, the performance became unreviewable. This leading role earned Tony nominations for Ray Walston (who won) in the 1955 original and Victor Garber in the 1994 revival, and taking it mostly out of the equation left a big hole. Yet the production, which follows the altered structure of that ’94 revival, has strengths that demand your attention.
One of those is the performance of Michael Lawrence as Joe Hardy, the ballplayer “born” when Applegate converts an aged Washington Senators fan into a miraculous young athlete with the ability to lead his team past the New York Yankees. Lawrence can portray innocence and simple kindness without becoming coy, a difficult job for any actor, and he has a ringing voice.
The change in Applegate’s status allowed us for once to concentrate on the women in the cast: not just the steamy Lola but intrepid sports reporter Gloria Thorpe (Kayla Piscatelli, a saucy dynamo) and especially Meg, the wife Joe leaves behind when he’s transformed. Olivia Edge has warmth and dignity, though she’s far too young to have spent 20 years with the elderly, pre-transformation Joe (Robert Taylor, who can’t handle the songs).
The well-matched male ensemble rips through “Heart.” abetted by James K. Flynn as their irascible manager, and “The Game,” a tribute to abstinence before the season-deciding finale. (Hey, people believed in that stuff in the ’50s.)
But the musical is mostly a love story on multiple levels: Love of a hapless fan for his hometown team, love of a middle-aged wife for her sweet but neglectful husband – a love he eventually reciprocates – and even the love of a seductive hellcat for the innocent guy who resists her ministrations.
That comes through in CPCC’s version, Applegate or no Applegate. And Chisholm does have the right smug grin and snarky voice for the part, after all. When he reminds us that the devil lives comfortably in the basement of the U.S. Senate, we have to wonder whether things have changed much in the last 60 years.
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