Guildhall School of Music – Damn Yankees

Damn Yankees
Musical comedy by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, based on Wallop’s novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant

Meg – Anna McSweeney
Joe – Mark Desebrock
Applegate – Terence Keeley
Doris – Lois Jones
Sister – Chloe Pirrie
Coach Van Buren – Tom Austen
Henry / Mambo Boy – Joshua Blake
Sohovik / Neighbour / Fan Club Member – Graham Butler
Smokey – Oliver Gatten
Rocky – Tai Lawrence
Vernon / Neighbour / Fan Club Member – Ferdinand Kingsley
Mickey / Neighbour / Fan Club Member – Peter Campion
Bryan – Garrett Moore
Bill Welch – Nathan Hertz
Bouley / Reporter 2 – Nick Errington
Del / Neighbour / Fan Club Member – David Kirkbride
Strane / Mambo Boy – Jake Fairbrother
Hearn – Brodie Ross
Doug – Tanroh Ishida
Lowe / Reporter 1 – Nicholas Banks
Gloria – Samantha Béart
Lola – Lauren O’Neill
Miss Weston – Alexander Bromstad

Guildhall School of Music & Drama Orchestra
Steven Edis

Martin Connor – Director
Bill Deamer – Choreographer
Mark Bailey – Designer
Johanna Town – Lighting Designer
John Owens – Sound Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 7 July, 2009
Venue: Guildhall Theatre, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

The writing team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross was relatively short-lived – just two shows, “The Pajama Game” in 1954 and “Damn Yankees” in 1955. Ross died at the age of 29 just a few weeks after the Broadway premiere of the latter show.

“Damn Yankees” has a Faustian theme in which Joe, an ageing estate agent and avid baseball fan, sells his soul to the Devil (Mr Applegate here) in order to let his home team, the Washington Senators, win the pennant from the New York Yankees. He is transformed into a young man who happens to be a superb baseball hitter. Along the way he is offered romantic inducements by Lola, Applegate’s vampish siren assistant, but he cannot desert his wife Meg. When the Senators win the pennant he can kiss goodbye to Lola and her devilish boss and return to dear old Meg.

Guildhall School of Music and Drama is a past master at successful revivals of classic American musicals and “Damn Yankees” is no exception. Director Martin Connor and choreographer Bill Deamer keep it set in the 1950s. It has the look of a TV show of the period with Day-glo dresses, terrific chorus numbers and a thirty-piece band. Conductor Steven Edis evinces a big-band sound from his musicians and they have some really blasting tunes to play. Like the sentiments in the story – boy does what he has to do and then goes back to his favourite girl – the songs are open and straightforward. When the team need encouragement they sing ‘You’ve Gotta Have Heart’, while Lola makes no bones about her accomplishments in ‘Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)’ and Applegate has a sentimental moment in ‘Those Were the Good Old Days’ in which he recalls all the ghastly things he made happen. There’s a sweet romantic ballad (‘Near to You’) in which young Joe tries to explain to Meg that old Joe will return.

Mark Desebrock is a winning hero as Joe with a big voice and a personality to match. Terence Keeley is hilarious as the oily old devil Applegate, nifty, light on his feet but deadly funny. Lauren O’Neil’s Lola is a 1950s’ version of Madonna. But it is the company itself, the baseball line-up, that make the most impression, singing lustily, moving with athletic grace and wielding their baseball bats with the finesse of an Indian club-juggler. It is a fine revival and it is a pity that the West End seems unable to take on, or, can no longer afford, this sort of show anymore. There are hundreds of classic American musicals that could get us out of the doldrums.

It is a sweet, funny, sometimes moving, sentimental and very American story that has generally had more success in the US than the UK. The original Broadway show ran for over a thousand performances with Stephen Douglass as Joe, Ray Walston as Applegate and Gwen Verdon as Lola (after Mitzi Gaynor and Zizi Jeanmaire turned it down). In London it ran for about seven months. A Broadway revival in 1994 notched up nearly two years, but its London transfer, with Jerry Lewis barely did two months. An earlier London revival at the small Bridewell fringe venue was a better production. The film version in 1958 starred Verdon, Walston and Tab Hunter. In the UK it was re-titled “What Lola Wants”, presumably because who knows what “Damn Yankees” means. A wag at the time of the British production said that if The Queen goes to see it, they will have to call it “Oh, Those Americans!”. Incidentally, a new, updated film version is on the cards with Jake Gyllenhaal, Jim Carrey, Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway.

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