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“Those Damn Yankees”

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

 

Baseball, America’s favorite past-time, gains a little more “heart” in Vanderbilt Off-Broadway’s (VOB) production of Damn Yankees. Taking a step into the 1950’s, we follow Joe Boyd (Sammy Lyons) as he strikes a deal with the Devil, known as Applegate (Alex Schecter), to help Joe’s favorite team, the Washington Senators, make it to the World Series. In exchange for his soul and leaving his former life behind, Joe regains his youth and an extra hit of talent to play alongside the Senators as Joe Hardy (Michael Maerlender) and take them to the World Series. Detaching from the overly commercialized productions produced in the last ten years that VOB has done, the student-run organization took a risk in doing this show from the fifties. Producing an older show like this can bring about problematic features, like the role of women of the time, as well as the original fun that it gave its original audience. With an organization filled with powerhouse women, it’s curious as to why this show was chosen to be produced this year. The Director’s Notes, give a few answers to director Hannah Lazarz’s attempts to battle the environment of the show that is one of misogyny and systemic racism. While she claims that this production does not “[shy] away from these realities of the text and the times,” and that the “female characters are champions of this story,” the show falls short of the first claim and meets the second but for a strikingly different reason than hers.

Women have come a long way since the beginning of the 20th century. While still not in a perfect place of equality now, a show like this lets us see into the times before larger feminist’s movements come into fruition (which we are glad to have left). This director chose to focus on Joe and Applegate in a literal interpretation with this production when given the current climate, an attempted could’ve been made for a statement. But once again, a show like this does not lend itself to leading women. This is indeed a story about Joe and not Meg, Lola, or Gloria. While not lead characters, these women of VOB surpassed expectations in this classical style of musical theatre. While you could tell that there were moments that weren’t in some of the actors’ comfort zones, this production certainly showcased the lesser heard of members of the organization to delight the audience with their performances. In particular, Meg, played by Lindsey Mullen, was able to finally soar beautifully in song and stage presence in her fourth year of participating in VOB productions. Among less classically trained singers, this role really brought out the exquisite sound of her talent and training.

Applegate (Schecter-Left), Gloria (Lindsey Swearing-Center), Van Buren (Cole Carlin-right), Players (upstage), Player's Wives (above)

Applegate (Schecter-Left), Gloria (Lindsey Swearing-Center), Van Buren (Cole Carlin), Players (upstage), Player’s Wives (above)

Unfortunately for the audience and myself, this show has a more restricted time for when we can see this housewife in action. In the limited stage time we see women, they tend to be more ornamental to the point that many of the women in the cast are given the name “Player’s Wife” unlike the baseball team. Other standouts from the female half of the cast are Megan Ward as Lola and Monyae Kerney as a Featured Dancer and a Player’s Wife. Although there were some minor microphone issues throughout, Ward really took the role to bat and hit a run. Hilariously taking on a character like Lola that deals in seduction, love, loneliness, and smarts brought out the strengths of Ward’s singing and acting. While no lines were said, Kerney pulled focus whenever she was on stage from her confident dance moves and physical comedy. I hope to see more from her in the future. The women in this production gave their all on stage. Given that this show is not written for women, they were All-Stars in their performance.

Returning to the men filling the stage—a sight seldom seen in non-professional musicals—we are reminded that a neither good nor bad attribute of a show like this, is the necessity to complete the team.

(From left to right), Jordan Doromal, Cortez Johnson, Tom Driscoll, Joshua Golombek, CJ Roebuck, Evan Lyons, Connor Welch, Blake Tamez, Conner Pinson

(From left to right), Jordan Doromal, Cortez Johnson, Tom Driscoll, Joshua Golombek, CJ Roebuck, Evan Lyons, Connor Welch, Blake Tamez, Conner Pinson

While most did not seem to be much of individuals, as a team, they brought the spirit and heart to the unit of a team on stage. A valiant effort was made by Maerlender to lead this team not just in winning games but in terms of musical performance. The stage is a natural place for Maerlender, but I’m unsure if the Golden Age Musical stage is the exact place for him. However, I must applaud the growth and dedication he put into the role and its songs. Going against my catholic upbringing, I must give praise to Satan himself in the form of Applegate. Schecter, like Mullen, has not had many roles where his vocal training is highly visible alongside his comedic talents. Here, we are able to see both at work to the advantage of this role. The hilarious crafting of this role by the writers and the portrayal by Schecter really hit a homerun with the audience, cheering every time his devilish charm graced the stage and took a toll on Joe’s life.

Damn Yankees is not by any means a perfect show. It can be problematic when looking at the treatment of women and People of Color, it requires a few triple threat actors, and at times makes no sense plot-wise. At those times, I’d have to answer “Who’s Got The Pain?” with, “myself.” Of course, it’s at no fault of VOB with how this show was written. Although the performance set out to not only entertain its’ audience, but also display social issues of the time, the show aired on the side of a literal presentation of the music and text. Even through this, the enjoyable performances by the leads gave this show what it needed to make the audience stand on their feet by the bows along with the “heart” given by the rest of the cast and crew.

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One Comment on ““Those Damn Yankees””

Common themes of the lead essays are the lessons of love, family and integrity that are portrayed lightheartedly through the use of singing, dancing and sport. In class we discussed how Aristotle believed that we can discover truths from drama. Each of the lead essays mentioned how the play either reinforced or introduced ideals about humanity. While attending Damn Yankees myself it is apparent that the conflict between love and lust, family and glory, good and evil all resonated. There’s a verse in the bible that states, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul”. When searching for truth people either seek religion, science, and fortune tellers. To defend Aristotle, I would argue that theatre places no limits on imagination and can in this way produce concepts that challenge the human mind. Hamilton comes to mind as using theatre to challenge society, having a diverse cast playing roles typically assigned to Caucasians, using Hip-Hop and R&B as its musical genre. Damn Yankees as stated in the lead essays was effective in relaying its messages and themes as different viewers were left with similar impressions.

Donovan Sheffield on April 17th, 2017 at 10:17 am

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