After last summer’s extremely soggy opening for Ragtime, this year Park Playhouse has to contend with a heatwave for their opening of Damn Yankees; I honestly want to give these performers some sort of award for not succumbing to heatstroke. Other than a couple of microphones that peeled off and dangled due to sweat and humidity, you’d think they were performing in optimal conditions – consummate professionals, this crew.
Middle-aged Joe Boyd (Tim Nelson) is a baseball fanatic; the down-and-out Washington Senators are his beloved team. After saying he’d sell his soul for a long-ball hitter, Mr. Applegate (Kenny Wade Marshall) appears to take him up on that bargain – buying souls, you see, is his stock in trade. Joe’s loath to leave his wife, Meg (Sandra Bargman), but agrees, with one caveat – if he wants out, he has until the day before the end of the season to call it quits. Suddenly, Joe Boyd is young, agile and extremely talented Joe Hardy (Devin Cortez), who tries out for the Senators and makes it, and now they’re on their way to the pennant. Can Joe help the team win in time to save his soul from eternal damnation?
The show is the perfect choice for outdoor theater – light, fun and catchy. Timothy J. Clow’s scenic design is neat and simple – a wall and stage lined with AstroTurf, a second story to be used as bleachers, and, most effectively, runners in the stage to zip set pieces (and actors) in and out of the set’s entrances and exits.
Director Michael LoPorto’s done well with the cast – large groups such as this can be hard to corral, let alone do character work with, and he’s done both quite handily – and choreographer Ashley-Simone Kirchner’s work is utterly sublime. Some of the dance moves got actual gasps and spontaneous applause from the audience – this is not only choreography but almost acrobatics. Just wonderful.
Bargman and Nelson have lovely chemistry; their “A Man Doesn’t Know” is extremely touching. Cortez manages to have the same chemistry with Bargman, as well; he’s a perfect Joe Hardy, with charisma to spare, and his scenes with Lola (Emma Pittman), Applegate’s reluctant minion, are electric. Pittman herself is a standout; her “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Two Lost Souls” were audience favorites, judging from the applause, and costume designer Tatyana Hillsman outdid herself with Lola’s sumptuous outfits. The Senators are a joy to watch – they’re filled with such energy, and if their “Heart” (such wonderful harmonies!) and “Who’s Got the Pain” with Pittman don’t make you smile, I don’t know what will. Marshall’s Applegate is a bit more of a buffoon than a schemer, but it works; his “Those Were the Good Old Days,” complete with one long, drawn-out note that split the night in two, had us all on the edge of our seats.
Treat yourself to this show sometime this month; there’s nothing here you won’t love, and you’ll leave a little more enamored with what wonderful arts summer in our area has to offer.
“Damn Yankees”; Park Playhouse, Washington Park, Albany; through July 28; $25-free; Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 20-minute intermission; (518) 434-2035; http://www.parkplayhouse.com/