by Lorie Lewis Ham
What better time than baseball season to produce a musical that involves baseball! Damn Yankees, produced by the Good Company Players, burst out onto the Roger Rocka’s stage in Fresno on May 18.
Damn Yankees is a musical that premiered on Broadway in 1955. George Abbott and Douglass Wallop wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The story is a modern retelling of the Faust legend about a man who sells his soul to the devil, but this version is set in 1950s Washington D.C. and a Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the devil so the Senators can beat the “damn” Yankees for the Pennant. The fan is Joe Boyd (Jason Fregoso) and he is obsessed with the Senators, to the point where his wife Meg (Kay Kelm) feels like a widow during baseball season. Being a sports widow myself–I very much relate!
The show starts with Joe glued to the TV as Meg begins to sing “Six Months Out of Every Year,” with Joe and the chorus joining in. Kay has a beautiful voice, and this was a perfect way to start the show. Then in walks the devil, using the name of Mr. Applegate (Terry Lewis), with an offer Joe just can’t refuse! Applegate turns Joe into a 22-year-old baseball phenomenon named Shoeless Joe Hardy (Tim Smith) and the fun begins. Later Joe throws a wrench into Applegate’s plans by wanting to go back to his wife, so Applegate throws temptress Lola (Paige Parker) at Joe.
This a classic old style musical filled with a lot of fun songs and laughs. There are big group numbers, some quartet numbers by the ball players that are done with beautiful and sweet four-part harmony, some sultry numbers, and even a love song.
A couple of the songs were very familiar to me, “Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants,” even though I’ve never seen the show or the 1958 movie, as they went on to become popular songs on the radio and tend to show up in a lot of variety shows. Paige as Lola was perfectly sultry and did a great job in “Whatever Lola Wants,” and Terry Lewis was absolutely hilarious and deliciously evil as the devil–I loved his song and dance number “Those Were the Good Old Days.” Another favorite of mine was the sweet love song performed by Tim Smith who has the most lovely tenor voice! Jesse McCoy, who played one of the ball players and a dancer in “Two Lost Souls,” was a standout in “Lost Souls” with his skillful dancing. Other familiar faces who always provide solid performances were Greg Ruud as the coach and Emily Pessano as the reporter Gloria Thorpe.
If you enjoy classic musicals, Damn Yankees is a perfect escape from the summer heat and the stress of the times, even if you aren’t a baseball fan. Everyone did a great job so be sure to catch this show for some fun, laughs, and good music. It continues on stage at Roger Rocka’s in Fresno until July 9, more info can be found on their website.
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