For their first production of 2013, the Off Broad Street Players have chosen a classic musical from the 1950s, DAMN YANKEES. They are to be commended for choosing a show that is not often staged nowadays. It is as entertaining as ever as it takes us back to a different era in the history of baseball when the New York Yankees were unbeatable. In a variation on the “Faust” legend, Joe Boyd (Walter Webster), a loyal fan of the bottom-of-the-league Washington Senators, declares aloud that he would sell his soul for a “long ball hitter” who could lift the team out of the doldrums and defeat the “damn Yankees.” No sooner does he say this than Mr. Applegate, aka the Devil (Doug Eppler), appears and offers him a deal. In exchange for his soul, he will become the ballplayer the Senators team needs. Joe accepts, but insists on an “escape clause” that will allow him to back out. So overweight, balding Joe Boyd becomes young, handsome, athletic Joe Hardy (A. J. Mendini), who leads the team to win after win. But, although he is surrounded by flocks of adoring female fans, Joe misses his home and his beloved wife, Meg (Ellen Mather). Applegate, afraid of losing the deal, sends for sultry siren Lola (Katie Fransko) to seduce Joe. But he is a one-woman man, and Lola has her first failure. Eventually she becomes his friend and turns against Applegate, who still has some dirty tricks in store.
Webster easily wins audience hearts as the older Joe, torn between what he wants and what he has. Mendini is equally appealing as his younger self. He comes across as sincere and honest even though he is not the real Joe. Eppler is a sly, impish Applegate, both funny and sinister. Fransko, in the role made famous by Gwen Verdon, is convincing as seductive Lola (“Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”) as well as the “lost soul” she really is. Mather is touching as Meg, who bravely carries on after her man disappears and befriends young Joe when he comes to rent a room. We must not forget Kelsey Hogan, who plays hard-boiled reporter Gloria Thorpe. The baseball players are excellent too, but too numerous to mention. They deliver the well-known song “Heart” with great gusto. The director, John T. Stephan, has established just the right pace, neither too slow nor too fast. The offstage orchestra is sometimes a bit loud, but does not drown out the cast. The many set changes are handled deftly for the most part. The sets and costumes are attractive and appropriate for the period. Lola’s first costume is clever and sexy without being too revealing.
The beautiful Levoy Theatre, an old movie house, is the perfect setting for musicals with its high and wide stage. Be sure to get directions before you go there. The theatre is in the business section of town, past a long residential area. It’s a long trip for some of us, but worth the ride.
Book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop
Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Directed and Choreographed by John T. Stephan
Musical Direction by Walter Webster
Februarv 15-24, 2013
Off Broad Street Players
at Levoy Theatre
126-130 N. High Street
Millville, NJ 08332