CAST’s Damn Yankees’ connects for a solid hit
Written by: Ruby Nancy
A popular show that ended the curse on shows about baseball, “Damn Yankees” the musical now playing at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre, is based on Faust, who bargains with the devil to achieve his dream.
In the case of this popular ’50s era Broadway musical, it is the chance to play for the Washington Senators and help them for once take the pennant from the New York Yankees that prompts Joe Boyd (played by the golden-voiced Rob Engelson) to make a deal with one Mr. Applegate (the inimitable Jay Berkow). After the transformation, young “Joe Hardy” (played well by Patrick Stinson) tries out for the Senators and becomes their star player, attracting both fans and media attention, and along the way there are a host of wonderful songs and big company numbers that make for a thoroughly enjoyable piece of musical theater.
Guest director Donald Brenner makes excellent use of a wonderfully talented cast, who successfully belt out many of their songs finding the right mix of high-volume exuberance and finely-tuned control that makes for rich, strong singing without ever overpowering the audience. This is a strong company that, from the strong and funny first song (“Six Months Out of Every Year”) to the comic delights of “The Game,” clearly understands how to present a variety of songs in diverse ways, keeping the musical mix textured and interesting just as it should be.
And it is Brenner’s cast that makes this wonderful show happen.
Engelson does fine work as an actor here, but he also sounds incredible giving a fabulously rich vocal performance that makes you wish he had more songs to perform. His work on “Goodbye, Old Girl” is so awesome you secretly hope his character won’t change into the younger Joe, just so you can hear him sing all throughout the entire show.
Berkow is dapper and disarmingly friendly as Applegate (the devil character), giving the role a broad, yet stylish, vaudevillian turn especially on “The Good Old Days” that successfully includes a bit of mugging for the audience (something few contemporary performers can really pull off without a hitch). His snappy on-stage rapport with Katherine Walker Hill, who stars as Lola, is also wonderful to watch.
As for Hill, she lends the role of Lola just the right mixture of jaded, old-world sass and fresh-faced hope (another difficult task) to make it work in a wonderfully believable way. Even after two big numbers in the first act “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and “Whatever Lola Wants” her singing and great dancing in those is so good they just leave you wanting to see more.
Nicole Horton’s sweet and sincere Meg, Stinson’s stalwart and straightforward Joe Hardy, and Sandee Cunningham’s riotously funny Sister are also among the many wonderful performances this “Damn Yankees” has to offer.
Don’t miss a single one of them.