Broadway Revival Of `Damn Yankees' Drives Poor Bargain
At the Marquis Theatre.
AS the most famous song from this classic 1955 musical intones, ``Ya gotta have heart.'' What this production has instead is pyrotechnics. Jack O'Brien's production, which began at the Old Globe in San Diego, stars Victor Garber as Applegate (the Devil) and Bebe Neuwirth as Lola, roles that were originally filled on stage and screen by Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon. This is the tale of Joe Boyd (played by Dennis Kelly), a middle-aged baseball fanatic who dreams of having his beloved Washington Senators beat those ``damn Yankees.'' Applegate seizes on that desire, turning Boyd into young Joe Hardy (Jarrod Emick), who will single-handedly lift the Senators out of the cellar. In return, Joe will have to give his soul to the devil.
Joe's prowess lifts the hearts of the team's manager (Dick Latessa) and his fellow players, but Joe's heart is back home with his wife Meg (Linda Stephens). Sensing Joe's desire to back out of the deal, Applegate produces his helpmate Lola, whom he hopes will tempt Joe into compliance.
The musical boasts a wonderful score featuring tuneful songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The songs still work, and the concept is delicious fun, but this production doesn't manage to convey the sentimentality that lies at the heart of the show. The original book, written by Douglass Wallop and George Abbott, has been updated with the help of 106-year-old Abbott. Numerous jokes and references to Milton Berle, Joe McCarthy, and J. Edgar Hoover have been added, but such revisions only date the show further.
Lola's longing for Joe, Joe's longing for his wife, his desperation to help the Senators win the pennant - these are things we should care about, but we don't in this production.
What does work is the ensemble staging. The baseball team is a humorous lot, and the locker-room scenes are staged with contagious fun. Rob Marshall, who contributed outstanding choreography earlier this season to the revival of ``She Loves Me,'' has choreographed several comic numbers, including the baseball themed ``Blooper Ballet.''
The production is lavishly staged, and there is much business involving Applegate's propensity to have things burst into flame when he is upset. Fires are constantly erupting, fireworks are going off, and Applegate and Lola perform a soft-shoe routine with enough flames behind them that you start worrying for the performers' safety.
Would that Neuwirth's performance was nearly as incendiary. The actress, so devastatingly funny as Lilith in the television series ``Cheers,'' has a marvelously lithe dancer's body, but she doesn't come close to capturing Verdon's appeal.
Garber is a charming Applegate, and he is no slouch as a comic actor, but he plays the character as somehow inept, so the suspense of whether Joe will be able to outwit him is lost.