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Those Damn Yankees Did it Again

Posted by on Friday, February 17, 2017 in Production Review, , , , , , , .

On January 20, 2017, in Blaire School of Music’s Ingram Hall, nearly every seat was filled with audience members anxiously anticipating Vanderbilt Off-Broadway’s performance of Damn Yankees. The buzz floating around Vanderbilt’s campus was that the production was a hilarious rendition of the original 1955 Broadway show. Not to say I wasn’t looking forward to it, or thought it would be bad, but I was unfamiliar with the story and heard some high praise, so I was very pleased to say Damn Yankees did not disappoint.

The relationship between husband and wife, Meg (played inspiringly by Lindsey Mullen) and Joe Boyd (Sammy Lyons) anchors the musical. Joe Boyd loves two things in this world: his wife and the Washington Senators. After watching his Senators lose the pennant year after year to the damn Yankees, Joe states that he “would sell his soul for one long ball hitter.” Upon hearing his favorite words, the devil, in the appearance of a man named Applegate (comically portrayed by Alex Schecter), appears out of nowhere to make Joe’s biggest wish come true. Applegate turns him into the best long ball hitter the Washington Senators have ever seen, but after making the deal, Joe realizes that his wish was not all it was cracked up to be. Through great acting, entertaining musical numbers, and a literal dance with the devil, Damn Yankees teaches us a very important message, that love can overcome any obstacle, love can conquer any fear, and love can defeat the evils of this world.

Having to put on three shows in three nights with a heavy class schedule can be very difficult. The long nights, the weekends given up, and rehearsing their lines in the mirror all paid off because the acting was sensational. I was especially drawn to Joe Hardy (Washington Senators Joe played by Michael Maerlender) and Lola (the devil’s female companion performed brilliantly by Megan Ward), who stole the show. Maerlender gave an impressive performance acting through his character being questioned, being put on trial, and having to deal with all the issues of being the one everyone looks up to. It’s not easy being number one, but Joe Hardy made it look natural. Maerlender also was able to show off his emotional side and strong voice with his solo rendition of “A Man Doesn’t Know.” And even though the choreography did not resemble that of Bob Fosse (premier musical choreographer who choreographed the original 1955 show) I liked how his temperament matched that of the song. When you are singing emotional lyrics like, “A man doesn’t know / what he’s got til it is / no longer” you don’t need a big dance number to go along with it. Let the emotion speak for itself.

As good as Maerlender was, from the minute she appeared, Ward owned the stage. She first appeared on a leather couch looking very seductive and wearing nothing but a nightgown. It takes guts to put yourself out there like that and be vulnerable, but when you own it like she did, it’s not hard for the audience to fall in love with you. Ward’s first appearance also included a catchy little number called “A Little Talent,” which was a chance for choreographer Hannah Younker to pay tribute to the original Fosse choreography. While Lola was the only one singing, her and Applegate shared the stage and created a performance within the performance by playing off one another with their dance moves. It was also quite impressive that Ward was able to pull off a costume change mid song, not an easy thing to do. Then to follow all that up with an entertaining and tasteful Hispanic accent that caught the audience by surprise only increased my affection for the character. This was my first time seeing the actress, but I was immediately drawn to her versatility and confidence as a performer.

Aside from the fact that the actors are my age and attend the same school as me, the genuine passion they acted with allowed me to feel a real connection to the actors. I found myself rooting for them, wanting the same things they wanted, and because of this, I felt more connected to the message they sent. This is the same feeling I look for when coaching and working with basketball players and it was nice to see that connection between sports and theatre. They may seem like opposites on the surface, but whenever you are a part of a team and work together to create something great, you will have a connection with the audience that transcends whatever the activity may be.

Damn Yankees was a damn near perfect musical with passionate acting, tasteful musical numbers, and a creative storyline that allow the audience to enjoy a nice night out on the town. But what I enjoyed most was that in the midst of all the fun and emotion; the musical was still able to speak to us. The musical grabbed us on the shoulder, leaned in, and whispered in our ears that love conquers, love overcomes, and love defeats evil. No matter what the circumstance or who your opponent may be, never ever stop loving, a message we can all take to heart and remember in our own lives. Thank you to the actors, thank you to the artistic board, to the original 1955 production, and thank you to those Damn Yankees, they did it again.

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