Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Damn Yankees, Aug 20, 2008 ****

Damn Yankees
Words & music by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross, book by George Abbott & Douglass Wallop by The Production Company
 State Theatre Aug 20 to Aug 24, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 20, 2008

Don’t be fooled. A musical about baseball might sound just a bit too All-American and irrelevant to an Australian audience, but Damn Yankees is a damned good show. And when I say “damned”, take that literally because the devil takes centre stage.

When baseball fanatic and couch potato, Joe Boyd (David Whitney), vows that he would sell his soul if his precious Washington Senators could win the series, he sets in motion an uncontrollable chain of events. Mr. Appleby (Matt Hetherington) appears in a puff of smoke to grant Joe his wish. Dumpy, middle-aged Joe is magically transformed into baseball star, Joe Hardy (David Harris). The only problem is that, having sold his soul to achieve his goal, he must leave behind his loving wife, Meg (Anne Wood).

Director, Terence O’Connell, with choreographer Alana Scanlan, musical director Vanessa Scammell and Orchestra Victoria, creates a polished and charming production with a talented cast.  As the show’s hit song says, Damn Yankees has heart.

Heart (You’ve gotta have heart”) sung by the chorus of cheerful, try-hard baseball players, is not the only memorable song by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Pia Morley vamps it up with the sultry tune, Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets) and she finds a balance between devilish seductress and sympathetic admirer of Joe.

Harris is the perfect, muscular golden boy as baseball star, Joe Hardy. He blends naivete, honesty and ambition in the American idol and his voice has warmth and an emotional quality. Morley and Harris sing Lost Souls, a sexy, peppy duet, with passion.

Hetherington, as the devil in the guise of Mr. Applegate, almost steals the show.  He revels in the role, playing him as a sneering, manipulative misogynist rather than as a sleazy seducer. His wickedness is cheeky and comical and he uses magic to colour his wickedness with fire tricks and sleight of hand. With the impish chorus, he hams it up singing The Good Old Days.

Wood and Whitney are relaxed and amiable as Meg and old Joe. Near To You, their trio with Harris, has warmth, poignancy and fine harmonies. Melissa Langton, Wendy Stapleton and Sally Bourne create appealing comic characters.

Although the show has only two big hit songs and the story is gossamer-light, Damn Yankees is a fun night out.

By Kate Herbert

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