Home » Production Review » “You Gotta Have Heart”: Show Stopping and Soul Searching in VOB’s DAMN YANKEES

“You Gotta Have Heart”: Show Stopping and Soul Searching in VOB’s DAMN YANKEES

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

damn yankees

Vanderbilt Off-Broadway’s production of Damn Yankees delivers everything you might want in a classic musical—big song and dance numbers, jokes that feel surprisingly relevant to today’s political climate (along with adlibs that blatantly call out the newly inaugurated 45th president), and faithfulness to social realities of the 1950s that leave you wondering whether or not you should really be enjoying this at all. George Abbot’s book also prompts an exploration of what people are willing to do to fulfill their deepest desires. Director Hannah Lazarz deftly navigates each of these aspects to craft a production that provides diverting entertainment and subtly asks the student audience to consider what they would do when faced with Joe’s decision.

The show opens on Joe and Meg Boyd (played by senior VOB veterans Sammy Lyons and Lindsey Mullen with worn-in affection), a couple in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. whose conventional lives suddenly change when the devil himself—in the form of Mr. Applegate (a convincingly crooked Alex Schecter)—approaches Joe with an offer he can’t refuse: selling his soul to become Joe Hardy, a young baseball star with the ability to secure the pennant for Joe’s beloved Senators. Michael Maerlender’s Joe Hardy is high strung and determined as he adapts to baseball stardom and life away from Meg. Everything seems to be going well, until it isn’t. Enterprising reporter Gloria Thorpe (Lindsey Swearingen, unwavering in voice and spirit) introduces doubt about Joe’s background, and Applegate is all too eager to throw curveballs, including the introduction of Megan Ward as Lola, Applegate’s assistant and top homewrecker who is by turns sultry and sympathetic, to prevent Joe from exercising the escape clause in his contract.

While navigating this plot is ostensibly the show’s purpose, it also manages to provide entertainment that ably distracts the audience from both their lives outside the theatre and the unwieldy dilemma at the show’s center. Hannah Younker’s choreography draws on Fosse’s original work and springs exuberantly off the stage. “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, MO,” led by Swearingen, brings the ensemble together in a frenzy of buoyant movement and emphatic vocals, while Ward’s two first act solos “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” showcase both her comedic chops and her character’s exaggerated sex appeal. Despite the stereotypical nature of their roles as doting wife, daring vixen, and determined career woman, the show’s few women hold their own in the men’s leagues. While the women steal the show in act 1, act 2 is for the boys. “The Game” unites the baseball team in their commitment to focus solely on winning until they secure the pennant, teasing a sex and alcohol strike that is humorously reminiscent of Lysistrata. Late in the second act, “Good Old Days” provides Schecter the opportunity to display both his commendably consistent evil laugh and his impressive vocal ability as Applegate reflects fondly on what most would consider tragedies. This all but makes up for the ubiquity of heavy handed devil puns made throughout the show, as the song overturns conventional depictions of devilishness. The sheer number of laugh lines and show stopping songs compensate for the convoluted plot and ultimately get the audience to their feet in an ovation.

The show’s plot and production design, especially the period-specific costuming by Beth Hardy, root the show in the 1950s, but the themes explored within are timeless. We may see ourselves in Joe, risking everything to pursue our wildest dreams. Or maybe we are more like Meg, clinging to normalcy after trying to live in its absence. Regardless, we leave the show buoyant from a night of diversion, knowing that the challenges we grapple with are universal.

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