Incline Theatre Has a Solid Hit in Damn Yankees

Review by Doug Iden of Damn Yankees: Incline Theatre

If you are disappointed about the Reds season so far, imagine being a Washington Senators fan during the 1950’s when the New York Yankees routinely drubbed the home team. This is the premise of Damn Yankees, a classic musical which is playing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. Based upon Douglass Wallop’s “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” Damn Yankees tells the story of a middle-aged, long suffering Senators fan (an actual team at the time) who is so dispirited by the hapless Senators that he offers to sell his soul to the Devil if his team could win the American League pennant. Shazam, Mr. Applegate (the Devil, played by Rodger Pille with gleeful malevolence) strikes a deal to transform Joe Boyd (Tim Perrino) into a baseball phenom named Joe Hardy (William Jackson). However, not only did Joe bargain away his soul but he also risks losing his soulmate wife Meg (Michelle Wells) with whom he is still very much in love. However, (spoiler alert) this is a musical and, chances are, there will be a happy ending.

The show is very upbeat with a lot of music and dancing, all tied to the baseball theme. The current presentation does not hit a homer but it is a good, solid triple. There is a good transition from middle-aged Joe to young Joe when Perrino starts the song “Goodbye, Old Girl” (referring to his wife) and then Jackson finishes the song with a very strong voice. Jackson is only a sophomore at CCM but his voice and command of the stage promise a very bright future.

We immediately meet the downtrodden Senators team who try to bolster their beleaguered season by singing “Heart”. The lineup of the male ensemble includes Tyler Gau, Stephen Welch, Drew Simendinger, Nick Godfrey, Chris Carter, Cian Steele and Cameron Nailey. The ensemble also doubles as reporters and dancers in various scenes.

Joe makes an immediate impact and the team starts winning but a nosy reporter Gloria Thorpe (Renee Stoltzfus) starts inquiring about Joe’s mysterious past. How could such a phenomenal player have come out of nowhere? Applegate improvises an answer which leads to the lively production number “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.”. His background will lead to plot complications later.

But Joe is heartbroken about leaving his wife so he makes an arrangement, much to the chagrin of Applegate, to rent space in his wife’s house. There is an immediate connection when his wife senses something about young Joe. Applegate responds by enlisting his “weapon of mass destruction” named Lola (Rachel Perin) to seduce Joe and make him forget his wife. This leads to another hit song from the show, “Whatever Lola Wants”. Over time, however, Lola begins to soften her feelings about Joe and ends up helping him to thwart Applegate.

The score, written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, who previously penned The Pajama Game, is high-energy music replete with clever comedic songs such as “A Little Brains, A Little Talent”, “The Game” and “Those Were the Good Old Days” along with ballad “Near to You” sung by young Joe and his wife. The singing over all is good with highlights including Jackson and Michelle Wells. Pille, as Applegate, exudes an unctuous charisma and sings a good duet with Lola called “Two Lost Souls”. Perin, who plays Lola, tries to channel Gwen Verdon (the original Broadway actress) with reasonable success. She is a good dancer and singer and is convincing as the sexy vamp. Steve Goers leads the band as usual but the horns need a little more practice.

There is a lot of dancing in this show. I’m always interested in seeing what choreographers (Kate Stark) do with the original Bob Fosse dances. Fosse’s style is very eccentric and very difficult. It appears that Stark has combined original choreography with a touch of Fosse to overall good effect. The dancing is energetic (frenetic at times) and effectively moves the story along.

With no curtain, the Incline set designers led by Brett Bowling have perfected the art of multisided set pieces which are turned to create a new scene. Most of the scenes are the Boyd’s living room and the team’s locker room. The lighting was mostly effective although it appears they missed a lighting cue at the end of the first act.

There are a few unique sound effects by Denny Reed including the sound of a batted ball. Also, they have recorded the voices of Pete Rose (who plays a disembodied Baseball Commissioner) and Marty Brennaman doing a brief play-by-play of the fictional final season game between the Senators and the Yankees. There is also a joke told at Rose’s expense.

So lace up your cleats, grab your ball cap and glove and steal your way down to the Incline for the highly entertaining show Damn Yankees continuing through June 18.

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