By PAM HARBAUGH
The song says, “You gotta have heart,” and the Henegar Center shows just that in its vivacious production of “Damn Yankees.”
Written by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop with lyrics and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, “Damn Yankees” is a fantastical tale about having the dream and determination to see something through. In it, out of shape senior citizen Joe Boyd yearns for the Washington Senators to beat the Yankees. In comes Mr. Applegate, a.k.a. the devil, who turns Joe Boyd into Joe Hardy, a strapping young man who can bat, field and throw to perfection. Hardy is hired by the Senators and quickly leads them toward a winning season. But the rub here is his eternal soul and Meg, the wife he left behind.
The show’s 1955 Broadway debut won multiple Tonys, including best choreography for Bob Fosse. And if there were to be a local award for stellar choreography, it should go here to Christine Brandt who creates fun, layered, character and story driven choreography.Directed by Hank Rion, the show moves quickly and has some clever cross-over scenes during which scenery is shifted from one setting to the next. However, a couple of his featured performers talk too quickly and mumble nearly all of their lines forcing you turn to your seat mate to whisper “What did they say?” But just grit your teeth and try to fill in the blanks, because the show is well-served by some very good, unforgettable performances.
You can tell within a minute that Shane Frampton (Meg) is a powerhouse performer gifted with terrific timing and a strong voice. She’s got the comic grist for the opening number, “Six Months Out of Every Year,” in which she and a choir of wives lament their husbands’ fixation with baseball. And she’s also got the sensitivity to score in “Near to You,” which she sings in delicate harmony with Joseph Horton (Joe Hardy) and Gregory Galbreath (Joe Boyd).
To win Joe’s soul, Applegate needs to destroy his love for Meg, so he calls in his sexy assistant, Lola. Here, you can’t get any better than Gabriella Marchion, who vamps it up and delivers an unforgettable “Whatever Lola Wants,” during which she crawls on her stomach, prances on a bench, bumps and grinds and all the while sings with precision and fun character.
There’s just nothing funnier on two feet than Leslie McGinty, who quickly is becoming a master at physical comedy. While you may be aware of Daniel Grest’s beautiful singing voice (he was Marius in ‘Les Mis’ last year), in the number “Who’s Got the Pain,” he surprises with his dancing ability especially considering he’s never taken dance lessons. Also scoring big are the baseball players, especially Anthony Santiago and Richard Klenotich, who are animated, appropriately caricature-ish and fun, especially in their “Heart,” the show’s iconic musical number which repeats throughout.
While opening night found the orchestra (led by Jordan Evans) struggling a bit with the overture, it eventually found their footing to become a strong player as well.
Brighid Reppert’s scenic design allowed quick changes. Lighting designer Joshua Huss does some very good work here and creates singular acting spaces within a larger stage area. And Andrew Cline’s costume design is fun and vivid with bright colors evocative of “the good old days.”
While it may be 50 years old, “Damn Yankees” has legs. It remains colorful, splashy and, yes, surprisingly fresh. (To see a YouTube video of the opening night excitement, go here.)
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Damn Yankees” runs through March 29 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. $16 to $26. Call 321-723-8698 or visit www.Henegar.org.