Damn Yankees, the Broadway smash powered by baseball, true love and one hot babe, has been a theater company favorite for more than half a century.
The hit 1994 Broadway revival reminded theater fans just how much they loved the 1955 musical about a middle-aged baseball nut whose Faustian bargain transforms his always-losing Washington Senators into winners. The happy audience at Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, where a new Damn Yankees production has just opened, offers more proof that the show’s appeal hasn’t dated.
The rich score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross contains sentimental ballads ( Goodbye Old Girl, A Man Doesn’t Know, Near to You), a song of steamy comic seduction ( Whatever Lola Wants) and that rousing think-positive anthem Heart. The George Abbott-Douglass Wallop script, revised for the revival by Jack O’Brien, is the funny, sweet tale of a baseball mega fan who sells his soul to the Devil, gets transformed into a 22-year-old superstar, and all too soon realizes that his marriage is the only thing worthy of his devotion.
At Stage Door, director Dan Kelley, choreographer Rocky Duvall and the large cast serve up a version of Damn Yankees clearly influenced by the ’94 revival. They certainly don’t strike out, but neither do they hit this one out of the park.
The show’s strongest asset its the devilishly good Matthew William Chizever as Mr. Applegate, known elsewhere as Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub -- well, he has plenty of aliases. Applegate appears when Senators fan Joe Boyd (Mark A. Harmon) sputters that he’d sell his soul to help the Senators, and after the two iron out a few sticking points, old Joe becomes strapping young Joe Hardy (Regan Featherstone), the Senators’ savior.
Chizever plays Applegate with flair and just the right amount of self-satisfaction, appropriate to a fallen angel who’s usually the smartest guy in the room. His star turn on Those Were the Good Old Days is just that, the work of a vaudeville-style con man at his razzle-dazzle best.
The cast’s standout vocalists are Featherstone, Harmon and Elizabeth Sackett as Joe’s wife Meg (though Sackett plays Meg with one-note earnestness). Their voices blend beautifully on the haunting Near to You. Yet too often they and the other actors seem to be racing to keep up with the recorded instrumental tracks (the orchestrations are by David Cohen, musical direction by David Nagy).
Sabra Michelle’s Lola is not as hot as Applegate’s most trusted home wrecker should be. The curvy, petite Michelle does her best to imbue the Devil’s dancing disciple with pizzazz, but she seems challenged rather than commanding as she moves through Duvall’s choreography, and her two vocal solos are so-so. Likewise, Jack Livesey as the team’s manager Van Buren has the right look for the part, but he could be funnier, more frustrated and vocally stronger.
Better are Allison Maldonado as ace sports reporter Gloria Thorpe, Cindy Pearce and Bethany Wagner as Meg’s two best friends, and Larry Kent Bramble as the Senators’ owner Welch. The actor-dancers playing Joe’s teammates give it their all on Heart and The Game, and a couple briefly bare their buns in a locker-room scene. (The frequently changing set, it should be noted, isn’t one of Stage Door’s more impressive efforts.)
If everyone in the cast had hit Chizever’s level, Stage Door would have a darned good Damn Yankees. Overall, this one isn’t a contender.