Sunday, 26 October 2014

Theatre review: Damn Yankees

The Landor reviving Damn Yankees wasn't an opportunity I was going to miss, largely because it's one of those musicals I know absolutely nothing about, but which I've always been vaguely aware of as it's such a regular pop-culture reference in US TV and film. The 1955 musical with songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, is inspired by the decades-long losing streak of Washington's baseball team, the Senators, while at the other end of the league the New York Yankees seemed unbeatable. Senators fan Joe Boyd (Gary Bland) is willing to sell his soul just to see his team win the pennant, and the satanic Mr Applegate (Jonathan D Ellis) also throws in the chance for Joe to be the one to win it for them: He'll be made younger and, calling himself Joe Hardy (Alex Lodge,) will become the team's new star player.

He manages to include a get-out clause in the deal, but any demonic bargain has some twists of its own, and when Joe starts to jeopardise the plan by visiting his wife Meg (Nova Skipp,) Applegate deploys the succubus Lola (Poppy Tierney) to try and seduce him.

Damn Yankees is exactly the kind of old-fashioned Broadway musical it sounds like, and as usual Robert McWhir manages to make an awkwardly-shaped room above a pub seem like the perfect venue for it. Every time I sit in the front row for one of his musicals I seem to end up a fraction of an inch away from someone's high-kicks, and so it is here, Robbie O'Reilly's choreography also managing to throw in some backflips among the big dance numbers.

The sound balance also works as well as ever, the Landor avoiding the annoying habit of miking up singers in a small space. The songs are entertaining if not overly memorable - "Whatever Lola Wants" is the only tune that's really known outside of the musical, but there's plenty of others that provide the opportunity for big numbers, which the production invariably embraces. Obviously some gratuitous scenes of the players wearing only towels aren't something I'm going to complain about, and the 1950s idea of rampant testosterone looks remarkably like the 2010s idea of very, very camp; as the baseball players sing "The Game," about having to stay away from women before the big game, it's hard to imagine them struggling too much with this.

Of course if you want camp you need look no further than Ellis' demonic Applegate, who has an (ahem) hell of time, his performance getting broader by the minute until by the time he gets to his big number "Those Were The Good Old Days," he's laid on more ham than a continental breakfast buffet. Damn Yankees is sometimes sweet, frequently ridiculous, and consistently fun.

Damn Yankees by Richard Adler, Jerry Ross, George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, based on the novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop, is booking until the 8th of November at the Landor Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.


  1. You know what's irritating is that I left a comment earlier but the prove you're not a robot thing came up after I'd gone off the page and I missed it. So boo to Blogspot.

    1. The one you left in the Our Town review showed up, if that's what you mean.