Sunday, May 22, 2016

From the Archives: Review of TAP's 1999 'Damn Yankees'

Searching through the archives, I found this article from 17 years ago, the same day that my review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was published.

The following review of a community theatre production in Arlington, Virginia, appeared in The Metro Herald (Alexandria, Va.) on May 21, 1999:

Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

One of the great things about community theatre is that, when the cast is having fun on stage, the audience knows it. The sense of delight – and, yes, community – imparted by amateurs having a good time is infectious. While the Washington area is blessed with numerous top-notch professional and semi-professional theatres, there is something refreshing about seeing a group of actors, singers, and dancers putting on a show for the sheer joy of it, without worrying about the next audition, next paycheck, or the next job waiting tables.

Thus it is with the Arlington Players’ current production of Damn Yankees at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre. It may be true that not every step is in place, not every not is hit just so, and not every line is delivered with equal panache – but the energy and enthusiasm of the cast and enthusiasm of the cast and crew shines through and overcomes any “amateurism” in the pejorative sense. This sensibility even comes through in the sound of the community theatre (and also the high school theatre) orchestra, which has a certain raw, rough-edged sound that, while never being exactly “off,” still lacks the pristine precision of a professional ensemble. This lack of polish is not a flaw; instead, it is endearing.

It is particularly gratifying that director-choreographer Christopher Dykton has chosen to use the original script of Damn Yankees from the 1950s, rather than the compressed, rewritten book from the 1995 revival (which played the Kennedy Center in late 1996 with Jerry Lewis as Applegate; see The Metro Herald for December 28, 1996). That latter work eliminated some characters and changed others (“Sister,” for instance, is a hometown friend of Meg Boyd in the original, but she becomes Meg’s sister – what else? – in the rewrite.) Although the original script has some lame jokes and some anachronisms, it retains a better exposition than its successor. We learn, for instance, that Meg and Joe Boyd are two members of a colony of transplants from Hannibal, Missouri, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Who knew? (Two of the puzzling anachronisms: The play is set in 1955, yet Lola is introduced to Joe by Applegate as “Miss West Indies of 1957.” And in the opening number, “Six Months Out of Every Year,” Meg sings that she and Joe met in November of 1938 and married soon thereafter; later in the show, Joe says he got married at age 20. This means that Joe would be about 37 years old in 1955, yet he is played as someone in his mid- to late 50s. A simple change of that lyric to “1928” would solve the problem.)

Perhaps it is this hearkening to a simpler time that allows the cast to relax and enjoy themselves as they recreate the material on stage. All the performers put their all into their roles. You can almost see them licking their lips in satisfaction after a number ends successfully.

Of the principals, perhaps Chuck Dluhy is the most perfectly cast as Mr. Applegate, the devil who comes to Washington. Dluhy’s slinky performance reminds us of Bob Fosse as the snake in The Little Prince, and how appropriate can that be? After all, the original Damn Yankees was choreographed by Fosse, and there are echoes of his style in Dykton’s dances. Unfortunately, despite the enthusiasm of the chorus, the choreography here is much better conceived than it is executed.

Dluhy is well-matched with Kathryn Fuller as Lola, the vamp who used to be “the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island.” Fuller’s height contrasted with Dluhy’s diminutive stature turns them into a Mutt-n-Jeff team that works remarkably well. And the red and black costumes designed for the pair by Susan Chong are delightfully devilish.

If there is any problem in casting, it is, unfortunately, in Darrin J. Friedman’s Joe Hardy. He seems weaker than he should be, and this manifests itself the moment Friedman appears on stage, taking up the song “Goodbye, Old Girl,” where his older alter ego, Joe Boyd (Jim Golterman) leaves off, Friedman turns out to have a lighter voice than Golterman, when the opposite should be true. Boyd should have a voice that sounds worn, while Hardy should be booming. That’s not the case here.

Much of the rest of the show relies on good, strong ensemble work, and Dykton squeezes that out of his cast to good effect. It is difficult to pick out the stand-outs, but special message should be made of Kerry DeMatteis as Rocky, Christopher Smith as Vernon, Matt Steffens as Strane, Steve Gluckman as Mickey, and Wyatt Fenner in multiple supporting roles.

Damn Yankees has a number of wonderful, tuneful songs, including “You’ve Gotta Have Heart,” “Whatever Lola Wants,” “A Man Doesn’t Know What He Has,” and the comic baseball song, “The Game.” It also has what is perhaps the most clearly superfluous song in all of musical theatre, “Who’s Got the Pain,” a mambo number that was obviously designed to give Gwen Verdon (the original Lola) a chance to show off her special talents. It serves no other purpose.

If you want to have a good time and escape into the arms of a strong community of players, then go see Damn Yankees.
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Damn Yankees continues through May 29 at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre, 125 South Old Glebe Road in Arlington (near the intersection of Route 50 and Glebe Road). Performances are Friday-Sunday, 8:00 PM, with a matinee this Sunday, May 23, 2:30 PM. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and juniors (18 or younger).

For reservations, call the Arlington Players, 703/549-1063, or visit the TAP Website at
For the record, the current web site of The Arlington Players is Damn Yankees was written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (music), Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (lyrics), Douglass Wallop and George Abbott (book; based on Wallop's novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant). The original production was directed by George Abbott.

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