ACT revives old-school 'Yankee' charm
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Now just over 50 years old, "Damn Yankees" is decidedly old-fashioned, but the musical's revival directed by Jim Hutchison at Army Community Theatre proves that plenty of liberally applied schmaltz can ease its aching joints.
It's the story of a middle-aged man who sells his soul to the devil for a chance to play professional baseball and help the Washington Senators beat the New York Yankees. But what people remember most about the 1955 Broadway production and the 1958 movie is Gwen Verdon as Lola, the sultry seductress and personification of the hit song, "Whatever Lola Wants."
At ACT, the part goes to Elizabeth Harrison, an excellent dancer whose performance in "Swing" at Diamond Head Theatre still resonates with anyone who saw it. As Lola, Harrison's dancer's legs are the focal point for a semi-tango during her signature song and on the jazzy "Two Lost Souls" — the show's last big number. She also brings the right ironic bimbo flair to her lines.
The production's second big punch is delivered by Larry Bialock as that devil, Mr. Applegate. From his first Hitchcockian "Good evening" to his last over-the-top tantrum, Bialock rightly keeps his character more funny than threatening, and milks the appropriated nuances from his set piece solo "Those Were the Good Old Days." Lyrics such as "I see cannibals munchin' a missionary luncheon" tend to stick with you for a long time.
With supporting roles like Lola and Applegate grabbing the spotlight, Keoki Kerr as the central character Young Joe Hardy has to work hard to avoid being overlooked. It hurts that he doesn't get the best songs, although his strong delivery of uniformly plaintive tunes ("Goodbye Old Girl," "A Man Doesn't Know," and "Near to You") keeps them from swamping in heavy sentimentality.
Kerr also swims upstream against casting as a 20-year-old. Teammates that easily look 15 years his junior incongruously call him "the young kid" and Tahiti Fernandez seems more his contemporary than wife to his older alter-ego.
In addition to Fernandez, Amy Mitchell as the reporter and Tom Holowach as Old Joe, deliver strong performances.
The men's chorus, although young, is exceptionally energized and precise. Their standout performance of "You Gotta Have Heart" and "The Game" shows excellent teamwork and real musical depth.
Ernest Taniguchi's musical direction is on target, as is generally Deanna Luster's choreography — only going a bit loose and tentative in the Act One finale, "Who's Got the Pain?"
While it isn't a great musical, and is dated to boot, "Damn Yankees" still has color and charm and a few really good songs. The ACT production does it justice.