A year after the 1954 Cleveland Indians were swept in the World Series by the Giants, no one would have described them as hapless. That’s why it was the Washington Senators who were dubbed to be the miserable team at the center of Damn Yankees.
If only the show creators—Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (words and music) and George Abbott and Douglas Wallop (book)—had known what lay in store for our “beloved featherheads:” 57 years and still counting in the search for a world championship.
But no, in this show now at the Porthouse Theatre, couch potato Joe Boyd makes a deal with the Devil to become a young stud ballplayer and help the Senators win.
And once again this classic show delivers the goods, thanks to the spot on direction of Terri Kent and some winning performances. This is much more a love story than a baseball yarn, and director Kent brings out the poignancy of the relationship between Joe and Meg, the wife he temporarily abandons while pursuing his dream.
Once Joe strikes a deal (with an escape clause) with fiendish Applegate, old Joe turns into ripped Joe Hardy, a baseball phenom. But conniving Applegate has a secret weapon, the 172-year-old yet eternally young vixen named Lola, who has seduced men down through the ages. Trouble is, she’s never come up against an average Joe from Hannibal, MO.
Marc Moritz and Michael Glavan play old Joe and young Joe, and their interactions with Mary Anne Prevost as Meg resonate through songs such as “A Man Doesn’t Know and “Near to You.”
The Satanic business is handled with aplomb by Eric van Baars as Applegate, making lit cigarettes appear in an instant and leering with devilish intent. Still, at this geriatric point in the show’s lifespan, Applegate is a juicy role that begs to be embellished even further.
Longtime Porthouse stalwart MaryAnn Black gives her all to Lola, dancing and strutting her charms in “Whatever Lola Wants.” She has the required mix of sensuousness and geeky charm that makes this role click. But one has to squint just a bit to believe Black is the ageless and nubile temptress indicated in the script.
The production is tied together with excellent dance numbers choreographed by John R. Crawford and a chorus of ballplayers (male and female) who are energetic and sharp in every scene. Particularly effective are Jack O’Brien as the mentally meandering Smokey and Rohn Thomas as Coach Van Buren, who leads them all in the anthem “(You Gotta Have) Heart."
While it may be another few decades before our (yes) hapless Indians win a World Series, shows like Damn Yankees at Porthouse make summer downright enjoyable.
Through June 30 at Porthouse Theatre, on the Blossom Usic Center campus, 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls, visit: dept.kent.edu/theatre/porthouse/index.html