Let’s make one thing very clear: I will not being doing any stupid baseball puns in this review. Damn Yankees has been around for over fifty years, and I’m sure every possible joke has been made. There will be no “It’s a hit!” or “They really knock it out of the park!” or “It’s a home run!”, and I liked the show. But I’m not writing those jokes. You already know them, I know them, we’re all better than that. Now let’s talk about Pittsburgh CLO’s new production of Damn Yankees.
The story concerns Joe Boyd, an old out-of-shape man that has an obsession with baseball that makes his wife, Meg, feel unwanted. Perhaps their marriage is in a rut or maybe Joe is depressed, but he soon proclaims that he’d sell his soul for the Washington Senators to have a winning season. From below enters Mr. Applegate, a man who promises to take him up on that offer. You see, Mr. Applegate is actually the devil and convinces Joe to bet his soul that he would choose to permanently leave his domesticated life to be a hotshot ball player. Joe agrees, and Applegate transforms him into a younger star athlete who goes by Joe Hardy.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I mean the devil just shows up in a pinstriped suit and offers a man something in exchange for eternal servitude, and Joe thinks about it for all of a minute before agreeing. It sounds like it should be a much darker story, but the whole thing is gone about with the attitude of a cheesy 50’s musical so it’s actually kind of charming. I mean, how dark can a story get with there’s a baseball team doing dance numbers? They’re adorable! Whether it’s Coach Van Buren (Gavan Pamer) telling his players they gotta have “Heart” or the boys trying to keep their minds on “The Game” and not their sexual conquests, the Washington Senators are a sheer delight.
John Bolton as Mr. Applegate steals the show, which is something the devil would probably do. His punchlines are a bit dated (it’s the fifties), but he delivers them with such a smarminess and some knowing sarcasm that suggests his Applegate is cooler than the script wants him to be. He can grab a laugh just by entering dramatically through smoke or shooting a knowing glance at the audience. Applegate is aided by the best homewrecker on his staff, Lola (Sarrah Strimel). Ms. Strimel has the charm, voice, and leg length needed to make the devil’s number one girl a character you cheer for, and her seduction of Joe with “Whatever Lola Wants” is a standout.
The mere mortals get to be a bit less campy, with Sally Wilfert as Meg giving a grounded performance, coping with her husband vanishing after years of maybe not being there much to begin with. Jeffrey Howell and John Riddle do a great job playing the different ages of Joe; both the old man despondently looking back on his life and the young man reinvigorated with the chance to start over again. Determined reporter Gloria Thorpe (Jessica Crouch) leads the team in the first big dance number of the night, “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.”, which kicks the show into a higher gear. Meg’s baseball-loving friends (Christine Laitta, Jill Keating) bring the laughs while obsessing over baseball players and being picked on by Applegate.
Damn Yankees goes back to a time when baseball was still America’s “national pastime” but still hits the message that love is still the most important thing we can possess. The show says a lot about corruption and evil lurking in the shadows (an election joke gets a predictable big laugh), but at the end of it all, just being able to be around the person you love can be enough to thwart the devil himself. The Pittsburgh CLO has got a talented crew together to make a very fun and very cute show. Go see it. Get yourself some peanuts and crackerjacks (There. I did one).
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh CLO for complimentary press tickets. Damn Yankees continues through Sunday, July 10th. For tickets and more information, click here. Would you like to see more articles and reviews from Pittsburgh in the Round? Then help us out and donate to our indiegogo!
Presented by Pittsburgh CLO
Directed by Charles Repole
Written by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop (book), Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (music and lyrics)
Designed by Rob Bissinger (Scenery), Alejo Vietti (costumes), Ken Billington (lighting), Christopher Evans (sound), Matt Polk (photos)
Starring John Bolton (Mr. Applegate), Ryan Cavanaugh (Smokey), Jessica Crouch (Gloria Thorpe), Jeffrey Howell (Joe Boyd), Benjamin Howes (Welch), Jill Keating (Doris), Christine Laitta (Sister), Dallas Padoven (Vernon), Paul Palmer (Commissioner), Gavan Pamer (Van Buren), John Riddle (Joe Hardy), Avery Smith (Rocky), Sarrah Strimel (Lola), Sally Wilfert (Meg Boyd), and ensemble: Ben Bogen, Christopher Campbell, Ixchel Cuellar, Lucas Fedele, Jeffrey Gorti, Michael Greer, Justin Lonesome, Carina-Kay Louchiey, Mara Newberry, JJ Niemann, Kate Margalite, Taylor Kellas Warren.