On Saturday night at Ingram Hall, Vanderbilt Off-Broadway (VOB) presented the last of their 3-show run of Damn Yankees, a Faustian musical comedy that takes place in the 1950’s. The auditorium was full of theater-goers excited to see the much-talked-about production, as evidenced by the audience’s loud whooping and cheering even before the orchestra began the overture.
Having left his dreams of playing pro-baseball in his youth, middle-aged real estate agent Joe Boyd, played by Sammy Lyons, remains a baseball fanatic and loyal supporter of the Washington Senators. In fact, he’s so passionate about his team that for “Six Months Out of Every Year,” his wife, Meg, is stuck vying for his attention. This opening number and its clever staging had the audience chuckling as it captured the torment of wives as they lamented losing their husbands to the television set during baseball season.
Then, out came Alex Schecter as Mr. Applegate. Dressed in a red velvet blazer, Mr. Applegate commanded the stage with his theatricality and his signature Satanical laugh. Joe Boyd made a deal with this Devil, then promptly serenaded the audience with a heartwarming tribute to his wife in “Goodbye, Old Girl.” In the midst of the song, Mr. Applegate transformed Joe Boyd into the young twenty-something Joe Hardy. As Michael Maerlender appeared on stage as Joe Hardy, he sang the last half of the song and gave the performance an awe-inspiring finish.
Among the standout performances of the night was the baseball team’s rendition of “Heart”— clearly a crowd favorite by the sheer amount of applause that followed. The show also featured a lively dance performance and Lindsey Swearingen’s stunning voice (as female journalist Gloria) in “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, MO.”
And despite a few brief microphone malfunctions, Megan Ward as Lola, Mr. Applegate’s ‘best homewrecker,’ stunned the audience in her sultry performance of “Whatever Lola Wants.” One other memorable performance, though rather peculiar in nature, was “Who’s Got the Pain.” This entertaining dance-heavy number let the talents of the featured dance ensemble shine through.
All in all, the production was quite the hoot, often leaving the audience roaring in laughter. For instance, late in Act 1, the Devil (Mr. Applegate) attempts to curry favor with Joe Hardy by verbally affirming that he wants the best for him. He comically struggles with saying the word ‘happy,’ stuttering and stopping but leaving the audience very amused each time.
In Act 2, the baseball team made a reappearance, telling their tales of sacrificing sexual escapades for “The Game.” With over-the-top staging that humorously depicted what real locker-room talk is like, “The Game” was certainly a crowd-pleasing number.
Vanderbilt Off-Broadway did an incredible job keeping the production contemporary. In a scene in Act 1, Mr. Applegate vents to Lola about how overworked he’s been, having caused lots of chaos and destruction. In a line likely modified by Director Hannah Rose Lazarz, Mr. Applegate complains, “Election season was so tough.”
The musical itself highlighted some social issues still very much relevant to modern-day society. Gender roles and stereotypes appear as we hear the player’s wives sing about cooking for their husbands, and as we listen to a baseball player give horrendously wrong crossword answers. Most frustrating is watching how journalist Gloria Thorpe is ridiculed and overlooked for her gender, especially when she’s told off by Van Buren: “Go home, get married, have children!”
Damn Yankees ended on a sweet note, as middle-aged Joe Boyd is reunited with his wife in the reprise of “A Man Doesn’t Know.” They sing a beautiful, heart-warming, tear-evoking duet about how they’ve taken their love for granted, with the voices of Sammy Lyons and Lindsey Mullen complementing each other so well. The cast received a standing ovation for their hit production. Bravo, VOB!
Photos provided by SG McDuff