Monday, November 16, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Box Of Floral Park's production of Damn Yankees at United Methodist Church Of Floral Park by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre Box Of Floral Park's production of Damn Yankees at United Methodist Church Of Floral Park was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Damn Yankees
Book by George Abbott & Douglass Wallop
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross
Directed by Judy Brown
Theatre Box Of Floral Park
United Methodist Church Of Floral Park
35 Verbena Avenue
Floral Park, New York 11001
Reviewed 11/13/15 

The musical Damn Yankees is based on Douglass Wallop's novel entitled "The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant." It is set during the 1950s in Washington D.C. during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. The show opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on May 5, 1955, transferred to the Adelphi Theatre on May 17, 1957, and ran for 1,019 performances. It starred Ray Walston as Applegate and Gwen Verdon as Lola. It won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance By A Leading Actor In A Musical (Ray Walston), Best Performance By A Leading Actress In A Musical (Glen Verdon), Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical (Russ Brown), Best Conductor and Musical Director (Hal Hastings), Best Choreography (Bob Fosse), and Best Stage Technician (Harry Green). In the mid-1970s, Vincent Price starred as Applegate in summer stock productions of the show. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Van Johnson played Applegate in productions throughout the United States. In July 1981, Damn Yankees was performed at the Jones Beach Marine Theater in Wantagh, New York and was notable due to former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath being cast in the role of Joe Boyd. A Broadway revival opened at the Marquis Theatre on March 3, 1994 and ran for 718 performances and 18 previews. Featured were Victor Garber as Applegate, and Bebe Neuwirth as Lola. Garber was succeeded by Jerry Lewis, who made his Broadway debut on March 12, 1995. The revival was nominated for four Tony Awards but only Jarrod Emick won for Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical.

Joe Boyd, a middle-aged real estate businessman married to Meg, is a long-suffering fan of the Washington Senators. Frustrated by his team's constant losses and 7th place standing in the American League, he grumbles that if the Senators only had one good "long ball hitter," they could beat the "damn Yankees." When Joe says, "I'd sell my soul for a long ball hitter," the Devil, in the form of Applegate (wearing a red tie and red socks), appears to accept the deal. In return for Joe's soul, Applegate promises to turn Joe Boyd into Joe Harper, a twenty-two-year-old long ball hitter, who can lead the Senators to victory. Joe Boyd, who always had dreams of becoming a major league baseball player, accepts the deal but gets the Devil to agree to an escape clause. The baseball season ends on September 25th. Joe will have until September 24th at midnight to break the contract and get his old life back if he so chooses. Batting .480 and subsequently .524, Joe leads the Senators to the point where if they win their final game against the Yankees on September 25th, they will win the pennant. Joe Harper starts getting homesick, walks around his old neighborhood, and even rents the den in his old home since he misses his wife Meg, who no longer recognizes him. To distract Joe, the Devil tries to get Lola (a 172-year-old beauty) to seduce him so it will take his mind off his wife. Lola fails even though she "made things very hard" for him. Applegate then starts the rumor that Joe Hardy is really Shifty McCoy, a Mexican League baseball player who took a bribe, threw a game, and then disappeared. Gloria, the female sports reporter writes about this and the Baseball Commissioner holds a Hearing on the evening of September 24th. Joe would obviously like to clear his name, but he also wants to use the escape clause to return to his old life, since he now realizes how much he loves his wife. Applegate says the escape clause must be exercised at 5 minutes to midnight, and due to the arrival of Meg and her friends (who are intent to lie and testify on his behalf), Joe misses the deadline. With new found respect for Joe's integrity, Lola drugs the Devil so he won't be able to use his power to force Joe to throw the game on September 25th (It appears that once the Devil "owns" your soul, he can do anything he pleases, including reneging on the original deal). However, the Devil wakes up by the 8th inning with the Senators leading the Yankees 5-4. The Devil turns Joe back into his old self right in front of the entire stadium, but he still somehow catches a Yankees ball guaranteeing the American League pennant for the Senators. Joe Boyd runs back to his wife and embraces her. The Devil arrives to use Joe as his plaything but finds he has no power over him. True love has blocked the influence of evil, and Joe and Meg live happily ever after (or at least for 6 months out of every year). (FYI: The Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis after the 1960 baseball season to become the Minnesota Twins)

I must say that when a small community theatre company tries to put up a musical with limited funds, actors willing to work for nothing, and very little time to rehearse, it is amazing a disaster is avoided, and a miracle if those involved can deliver what could be labeled a success. With the very charismatic and talented actor Timothy F. Smith in the role of Applegate (the Devil) and the very believable performance of Michael Gerbasi as Benny Van Buren (the hardworking Manager of the Senators), this production of Damn Yankees will definitely take your mind off your cares and woes. The entire cast put everything they had into making the evening an enjoyable one for those who came out in the cold. The presentation of the songs "Heart" and 'The Game" will keep you humming the tunes as you leave the theater. In addition, you definitely will be talking about Matthew Natof, a cute, up-and-coming actor, who made a significant contribution to the Youth Ensemble. Mara Kaplan did a fine job as Gloria Thorpe, the sports reporter, and Donna Lindskog improved throughout the evening in the role of Meg, Joe Boyd's wife. Kerry Boye (Sister) and Loriann Smith (Doris) were hilarious as Meg's friends. Michael Goodwin, who played Joe Hardy, has appeared in over 250 productions on Long Island over the past ten years. His acting and singing abilities are beyond reproach. However, I feel he was miscast as Joe Hardy in this production. The actor, who is significantly overweight (with both man boobs and a spare tire), was completely unbelievable as a 22-year-old fit, sports superstar who appeared out of nowhere to save the day for the Senators. Ryan Estes, who played Sohovik, would have been better cast in the role. Stephanie Judge, who played Lola, was a good actress, but I was unable to evaluate her singing abilities due to technical glitches with her microphone. As a result, she was not as strong as you would expect one to be playing this part. The only other criticism I have is that the obviously talented Brian Donoghue (Henry) was far too young to play one of the Senators making "crude 1950s style hand gestures" about how they longed for women to have sex with, but had to give it up for the sake of "The Game." While this production of Damn Yankees may not be a home run, it is a solid double, which is not bad since they could have struck out.

Damn Yankees will play again on Friday, November 20th at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, November 21st at 8:00 p.m.; and on Sunday, November 22nd at 2:00 p.m. at Theatre Box Of Floral Park. Tickets cost $15.00 for adults; $10.00 for seniors; and $5.00 for children 18 years of age and under. You can call 516-900-2031 or e-mail to reserve your tickets, or you can do so online at 

A big negative for me was that the concession stand was not open before the show began. I like to take a soda to my seat or have something to nosh on before a play and during intermission. This was not possible at Theatre Box Of Floral Park. While the price of concessions was reasonable, they had no baked goods to sell. Many community theatre groups buy a dozen or two donuts to sell at a dollar each or cut up some Pecan Rings from Entenmann's, which certainly makes me happy and puts me in a good mood. Studio Theatre Long Island even gives away those cakes and coffees for free before their Sunday afternoon performances. I strongly recommend the Refreshments Committee rethinks what is possible in terms of audience amenities. That way, even if a production is sub-par, those in attendance will leave with full stomachs and smiles on their faces.

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