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Damn Yankees Steals the Bases–and my Heart

Posted by on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 in Production Review.

          I’ll be the first to admit that when Vanderbilt Off-Broadway (VOB) announced Damn Yankees as their 2017 Mainstage Production back in May 2016, I was more than a little disappointed. Damn Yankees follows Joe Boyd, a middle-aged, All-American man who sells his soul to the Devil, alias Mr. Applegate, in exchange for baseball glory as strapping young athlete Joe Hardy. But when he realizes a quiet home life with his faithful wife Meg is much more fulfilling, he must fight against Applegate and his sultry companion, Lola, to win it back — all while trying to save the Washington Senators from a dismal losing record. Golden Age all-stars Richard Adler, Jerry Ross, George Abbott, and Douglass Wallop created the sweet but strange musical in 1955, when it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Sixty-two years later, Vanderbilt Off-Broadway stepped up to bat, with Hannah Lazarz directing, Evan Blum designing lights and set, Beth Hardy designing costumes, and Hannah Younker choreographing. And as the production opened, I was sitting on my judgment seat.

          While I love musicals of all stripes, I do have a sweet tooth for shows with no sugar coating. “Why couldn’t VOB do something serious and mature?” I wondered pretentiously. I wanted to see (and work on) shows by Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel–but a silly old musical about baseball? It hardly seemed worth my time. So I ignored the emails inviting me to audition or sign up for tech crew and resigned myself to two hours of boredom that I would surely sit through come January, either out of obligation to friends or for a class assignment. I entered Ingram Hall that night thoroughly prepared to have a bad time.

          Boy did VOB prove me wrong! The ensemble had my toes tapping within five minutes, led by Lindsey Mullen’s crystal soprano and Sammy Lyons’ endearing exasperation in “Six Months Out of Every Year.” Alex Schecter was born to play Mr. Applegate, his deliciously evil laugh complimenting his warm, rich bass. Michael Maerlender’s sincerity as Joe Hardy was a pleasant surprise, as was as his round, open tenor. By the time the baseball team entered in their striped uniforms, I’d warmed up enough to smile at even the corniest puns. Cole Carlin kept the engines running during the slow baseball scenes as the snappy Coach Van Buren. Lindsey Swearingen brought a feminine touch that refused to be stereotyped as the intrepid sports reporter Gloria Thorpe, and Price Marshall lent the production Southern charm as the club’s owner, Mr. Welch.  The sheer bizarreness of the book was disorienting, especially the “erps” in the number “Who’s Got the Pain?” at the end of Act 1,  but watching the team exhort each other to “think about the game!” (instead of women) at the top of Act 2 helped to refocus the story and had me rolling in my seat with laughter. Megan Ward’s Lola was as bright as a thousand-watt bulb, and her transformation from plotting seductress to repentant soul was touchingly believable. Schecter sealed the deal with a near-perfect rendition of “Those Were the Good Old Days.” My heart melted as the show closed with a beautiful picture of Joe finally reunited with Meg, Applegate unable to intervene in the face of their love. The whole audience was on its feet as the cast gave a final reprise of “Heart,” smiles beaming from the top of the dugout.

          What did I get so wrong that VOB got so right? I never doubted the cast and creative team’s talent or commitment to the project. But before seeing Damn Yankees,  I didn’t quite believe in the magic ingredient that brought this show to life–VOB’s authentic sense of family. Almost every organization on campus claims to be a “home away from home,” hoping to lure in some lost first years or lonely upperclassmen. But VOB is the real deal. All evening long, their energy was palpable and their joy was infectious. The cast’s love for the show and for each other was rolling off the stage in waves, washing over the audience and pulling us back out to sea with them.

          Joe’s choice between family and fame gave me a new appreciation of why we make theatre on this campus–and why VOB chose to produce Damn Yankees this year. It may not be the most serious or groundbreaking musical, but it was a great choice for this campus family. This show gave students from all corners of Vanderbilt a chance to come together, work hard, have fun, and create genuine friendships. And on a weekend when reality seemed a little too harsh, it was enough to escape the pressures of our world for a sweeter, simpler one where even selling your soul can be a fun adventure.

One Comment on “Damn Yankees Steals the Bases–and my Heart”

I went into Damn Yankees with little experience for musicals, expecting to see overzealous singing and unrelatable character traits. As mentioned in this blog post, Damn Yankees surprisingly offers a flair and humor that keeps this musical from being cast into the lot of washed up and overdone. What made the audience seem so engaged could have been the escapism the show offered, and the relatability of the lead character Joe Hardy as he deals with critical life decisions. It is really interesting how this post mentioned the family-like aspect of VOB. Perhaps the dedication and commitment that VOB gives helped give life to Damn Yankees and why the audience loved the show.

Reagan Bustamante on February 27th, 2017 at 8:49 pm

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