OREM — With the Major League Baseball postseason upon us, it’s a time for baseball fans to cheer for their favorite team. As the World Series draws closer, more and more fans become disappointed and heartbroken as their team gets eliminated. But, what if a fan could change their team’s destiny at great personal cost? Would it be worth losing a fortune? Their life? What about their eternal soul? That is the central premise of Damn Yankees.
Damn Yankees is the story (written by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop) of a baseball fan who gets the chance to help his losing team make it to victory and beat the Yankees. In doing so, he has to make a deal with the devil to leave his wife and life behind in order to become a young and successful ball player. The fan, Joe, builds in an “escape clause” and takes the deal, only to find out that there is always trouble when dealing with the devil.
Arriving at Hale in Orem, the first thing I noticed was how the wall of the stage had been painted with baseball cards—a very nice touch. The opening scene set was already in place, with a realistic 1950’s living room. I was very impressed with the set design by Bobby Swenson. Throughout the show each of the scenes had similarly impressive sets, and Swenson made good use of the small space while staying true to the 1950’s time period.
Costuming was also impressive in this production. I especially loved the dresses of the main female characters, as well as the baseball uniforms. Costume designer MaryAnn Hill obviously did a great deal of research to make sure the costumes used were appropriate for the production. Thanks to MaryAnn Hill and to the period hair styles (designed by Janna Larsen) this production was completely true to the time period. Thanks to their hard work, the cast looked like they stepped out of the 1950’s. I also commend dramaturg Paul Hill for his research and work, which also contributed to a perfect period show.
As the production began, I became concerned with how small the stage was. The first number, “Six Months Out of Every Year,” was sung well, and beautifully choreographed, but felt a bit crowded. I was disheartened to think that the whole production would be overshadowed by the small venue. However, as the production continued, the impressive cast and creative choices made up for the small space, and by the end, I felt I had perhaps judged the first number a bit to harshly.
I could say a great deal about the excellent work of all the performers in this show. First, the entire cast executed the music perfectly. The score (with music by Richard Adler and lyrics by Jerry Ross) includes many iconic musical numbers including the extremely ever-popular “Heart.” The baseball players in the chorus had such lovely harmonies and the number was choreographed so well that the song won me over entirely. Music director David Smith and choreographer Geoff Reynolds both created excellent work that made Damn Yankees a wonderful night of theatre.
All of the lead actors excelled in their roles. M. Murphy Smith (playing Joe Hardy) has such an endearing face—and the acting and singing skills to go along with that face—to make a very believably good leading character. Jayne Luke played such a wonderful and sweet Meg, and her performance added a great deal of sweetness to the story. The song that these two actors sang together, “Near to You,” was so true to the heart of the story. The scene was unmistakably beautiful and poignant because of Luke and M. Murphy Smith’s emotional tenderness.
Bailee Morris was also impressive as Gloria, especially with her voice and also the choreography in the song “Shoeless Jo from Hannibal Mo.” One of the most iconic roles in the show in Damn Yankees is the seductress Lola, and Ashley Gardner Carlson certainly lived up to the expectations I had for the part. Her best moments were in the songs “Whatever Lola Wants,” and “A Little Brains, A Little Talent.” Finally, there is Greg Hansen, who plays the devilish Mr. Applegate. I have no way to express how much I enjoyed his performance. Hansen is one very convincing devil, and I believe he could have a long, enduring career playing evil characters. Thanks to Hansen, the song “Those Were The Good Old Days” was definitely among my favorites of the entire evening.
Overall, I highly recommend that UTBA readers attend Damn Yankees. I was completely surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and the plot is such an endearing tale.