Thingamajig’s ‘Damn Yankees’ is Darned Good

My made-up definition of quadfecta: a run of four grand events.

I finally completed Thingamajig Theatre Company’s summer quadfecta with the musical “Damn Yankees.”

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Disney’s Tarzan,” and “The Secret Garden” round out the repertory season. There are a total of 15 shows left, so there’s still time to complete the quadfecta. It’s the best way to experience and appreciate the depth of triple threat talent in this summer’s cast.

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Shower time in the Senators’ locker room, in the Thingamajig Theatre production of “Damn Yankees.” Photo courtesy Doug Chapin.

“Damn Yankees” first hit Broadway in 1955. It is the story of middle-aged, die-hard Washington Senators fan Joe Boyd, who makes a deal with the devil (Applegate) to help the Senators win the pennant from the Yankees. The deal involves selling his soul and abandoning his wife to become the young slugger star Joe Hardy.

The 1955 production was fondly reviewed in the N. Y. Times, but, right off the bat, had the following caution:

“George Abbott (Book and Director) has not been able to iron out all the kinks in his combination. In spite of his emphasis on speed afoot and timing there is a tendency every now and then for things to settle down a bit flatly on the ground. … But the story succeeds in being a sufficiently satisfactory vehicle on which to hang some highly amusing antics and utilize some splendid performers.”

The first Broadway revival of “Damn Yankees” was 1994, and cast 69-year-old Jerry Lewis as the devil Applegate. My first thought was, “What a miscast!”  According to the N. Y. Times review, I was right. Lewis never got his feet under him as Applegate. The audience expected him to be Jerry Lewis, but the part of Applegate called for something quite different. He opted for the later, but wasn’t convincing.

The second Broadway revival of “Damn Yankees” in 2008 starred Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”) as Applegate, Cheyenne Jackson (“Xanadu”) as Joe Hardy, and Jane Krakowski (“30 Rock”) as Lola. The N.Y. Times review said:

“…the production, directed by John Rando (“Urinetown”), is pleasant but a little pizazz-deficient. Everyone involved performs his or her chores capably, but the show does not shimmy off the dust of 50-plus years truly to tickle us anew. It’s a solid double, maybe, but hardly the grand slam that was last summer’s “Gypsy,” which subsequently transferred to Broadway and scored three Tonys…”

Fast forward to 2015, and Thingamajig’s “Damn Yankees”. Everyone, everyone, in this ensemble cast gave a solid performance. The acting, singing and dancing were a joy to listen to and watch. Triple threats all.

The main characters included James Scott as Applegate, Audrey Crocker as Lola, and Marek Zurowski as Joe Hardy. Boni McIntyre beautifully sang her role as Meg Boyd, and so did Tyler Collins as Joe Boyd. Alicia Osborn was convincing and powerful as reporter Gloria Thorpe. Michael E. Martin played a fine and soulful Van Buren.

Marek Zurowski perfectly played Joe Hardy as an innocent but guilt-ridden young man. His vocals were amazing and believable.

Audrey Crocker was also perfectly cast as the sexy Lola, who the devil Applegate brought on board to lead Joe Hardy astray. She was as cute as a sex-kitten; her vocals and dancing did not disappoint.

That leads to the details in the devil: James Scott’s Applegate. The best way I can describe Scott’s performance as Applegate, was that it was in technicolor, while the rest of the show was in black and white.

If that sounds harsh, let me explain.

Scott’s Applegate was appropriately costumed in red, much of it shimmery red. It was contemporary.

More importantly, Scott’s Applegate transcended to present time, while the rest of the cast was solidly stuck in the fifties — held there by the book and lyrics, and matching costuming — and there was no path for the cast to dance their way out of that era.

Scott’s Applegate was sleek and sly and appealingly wicked. He turned on a dime from sashaying an entrance, eyes flashing, to quickly departing with a scowl and evil eye when he wasn’t getting his way. His antics made me smile or laugh, even more so when he was very, very devilish.

Needless to say, Scott’s Applegate effortlessly sang and danced throughout the show… including “Those Were the Good Old Days” … and “Two Lost Souls,” a duet with Audrey Crocker’s Lola.

The ultra-talented director and choreographer Ryan Hazelbaker, along with an incredibly talented cast, took Thingamajig’s Theatre’s “Damn Yankees” to the show’s limits. James Scott took Applegate outside the box.

Cynda Green

Cynda Green enjoys writing about various and sundry topics, least of which is local politics.