“Damn Yankees” at Mac-Haydn is a great summer kickoff

“Damn Yankees” at Mac-Haydn is a great summer kickoff

Looking over the summer’s offerings, this seems to be the year of everything old being new again – and with everything in the world being so tumultuous, reviving old favorites really is kind of a comfort food for the mind. As someone lacking knowledge of the musical theater canon, I’m looking forward to an opportunity to see shows I’ve never gotten a chance to – starting with a stunning production of Damn Yankees at Mac-Haydn.

It’s the 1950s, and Joe Boyd (Steven Hassmer) is one of the Washington Senators baseball team’s biggest fans – but they’re not the winningest team out there. He declares he’d sell his soul for them to have a long-ball hitter – and along comes Mr. Applegate (Mark Hardy), who just happens to be in the business of buying souls, to make that happen. Poof – Joe Boyd is now Joe Hardy (Michael Brennan), in his early 20s and a baseball whiz – just what the Senators need to beat those damn Yankees. Joe can’t stop thinking about his wife (Julia Galorenzo) that he had to leave behind; a reporter (Megan Hasse) can’t stop thinking there’s something fishy about Joe; Mr. Applegate is so desperate to keep Joe’s soul that he brings in Lola (Corrinne Tork), a devilish temptress; and everyone’s caught up in Joe Hardy fever. Can Joe win the pennant, keep his soul and go back home?

This production is a gorgeous, lavish extravaganza from beginning to end. Jimm Halliday’s costumes are bright and beautiful (especially Lola’s – her striptease in the seductive “Whatever Lola Wants” was fantastic); Andrew Gmoser’s lighting design never failed to impress; Kevin Gleason’s scenic design was creative and made the most of the theater in the round model utilized for this show; Bryan Knowlton’s choreography was crisp and innovative, with musical theater past and present combined. And, of course, John Saunders’ direction – utterly breathtaking. What a creative team.

Hardy, whose Sweeney Todd last year was such a hit, is obviously having the time of his life playing the Devil. He’s a mesmerizing actor, and his work here is flawless. Brennan has the perfect look for young Joe Hardy, and the acting and musical chops to match; I predict great things for him in the future. Galorenzo has the voice of an angel and is the heart of the production; her scenes with both Brennan and Hassmer are truly touching. Hasse, who has a very Kristen Bell look (and energy to match) put in a powerful performance; her “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” was a treat. And Tork’s Lola was delightful – seductive, flirty, stubborn and lovelorn in turns, and playing them all with such believability. Her “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Two Lost Souls” with Brennan had the audience riveted.

If there’s a better way to kick off a summer season of shows, I don’t know what it is – this is a flawless production that had me grinning from beginning to end. Congratulations to Mac-Haydn on their 50th season and congratulations to all who made this show such a success.

“Damn Yankees”; Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham; through June 3; $39.50-$15; Run time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with a 30-minute intermission;

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