Giving the devilishness its due in 'Damn Yankees'
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
As an investigative reporter for KITV 4, Keoki Kerr is accustomed to posing the questions and searching for the answers.
As "Shoeless" Joe Hardy in the musical "Damn Yankees," opening Thursday at Army Community Theatre, Kerr finds himself on the other side of the fence: He's the one fielding queries and dodging replies.
"I'm playing this guy who has no past, because he was created by the devil," Kerr said of the classic musical-comedy role. "I frustrate these pesky reporters who are asking about my background. I mean, Joe's a huge baseball star, but no one knows where he came from. For me, it's fun — because I'm on the other side of reporters."
Joe Hardy is actually Joe Boyd, a middle-aged baseball fan who sells his soul to a dude named Mr. Applegate — in reality the devil — for youthfulness and a chance to batter up for the Washington Senators. It's a theatrical take on the Faust legend.
The devil taps a seductress named Lola (portrayed by Elizabeth Harrison) to entice Joe, which gives her an opportunity to deliver the show's big hit, "Whatever Lola Wants." The score, of course, also includes the memorable "(You Gotta Have) Heart" and "Two Lost Souls."
Kerr said he practically wrote his own contract to get to the dugout.
"When I was doing 'Miss Saigon' at Army, I was at rehearsal one night and (ACT producer-director) Vanita Rae Smith was talking about next season. She had three shows; she needed a fourth. I suggested 'Damn Yankees,' figuring it would be fun, and she pre-cast me."
In "Saigon," Kerr sang the role of John — and homered.
That solidified his standing at the community theater. While he's had his share of notable roles over the years, mostly on the second team, he's a first-stringer in "Damn Yankees."
Kerr said his colleagues and bosses at Channel 4 endorse his occasional stage roles. In high school, he was Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"; in 2000 he played Lt. Cable in a "South Pacific" production. Kerr also serves as artistic director and a cast regular for the annual Gridiron Show presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.
"I think I'm contributing, in a way, to the community," he said of his theatrical batting average.
He said his daily television stint is no different from a series of performances at Richardson Theatre in terms of facing anxiety or queasiness in preparation or delivery. But he loves the immediacy of the stage — something lacking when he's speaking into a TV camera.
"The neat thing about theater is the instant reaction," Kerr said. "You hear the laughter or the applause in a theater. For me, it's a chance to build (the performance) off the audience. So you're potentially feeding each other, since the audience is there in the seats, wanting to be entertained, and you're on stage, wanting them to respond.
"And in theater, there's no second take; you roll with the punches. If the props aren't there, you go for it."
With his daytime shift at KITV, his nights are free for rehearsals and performances.
He believes TV viewers "get a kick when they see people they tend to see only on TV in person on stage. It kind of humanizes you, you know? It's like, 'Oh, this is the serious news guy, who's always covering serious problems with the government.' Or whatever."
Occasionally, Kerr said, TV watchers are surprised he can sing. After all, he's been a full-time reporter for 15 years.
"I can surprise an audience in a different way, and that's always fun," he said.
He manages to take on one Hawaii Opera Theatre production every year, too.
And the next few weeks will be busier than usual because Kerr also will jump into rehearsals for Manoa Valley Theatre's "Pageant" musical, which premieres June 28. In that one, he'll play the emcee.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.