A Review of "Damn Yankees" at Opera Theater SummerFest | Blogh

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Review of "Damn Yankees" at Opera Theater SummerFest

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 11:53 AM

     SummerFest’s production of this baseball-themed Broadway classic hits it out of the park, but while wearing uniforms you wouldn’t expect.
click to enlarge Rachel Eve Holmes and Benjamin Robinson in "Damn Yankees" - COURTESY OF PATTI BRAHIM
  • Courtesy of Patti Brahim
  • Rachel Eve Holmes and Benjamin Robinson in "Damn Yankees"
The story’s the same: After Faust, a rabid Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the devil to become the slugger who’ll help his club finally defeat the despised New York Yanks. But cleverly, and somewhat cheekily, this incarnation of the 1955 Adler & Ross musical is cast so that all the men’s roles are played by women, and all the women’s roles by men (with one notable exception).
     SummerFest’s annual musical-theater offering (last year, it was The Fantasticks) succeeds with fun direction by Scott Wise and lots of energy and vocal talent from the young cast.
     However, this is not a drag version per se, but something perhaps even more theatrical: All 18 cast members are dressed identically, in blue jeans, tennies and nondescript long-sleeved shirts, with the costuming limited to the caps and jerseys the ballplayers throw on, a purse for a bearded “Doris,” a feather boa for the temptress Lola.

     It’s the latter role, the show’s most famous — highlighted by the tune “Whatever Lola Wants” — that illustrates Wise’s approach best. Rather than the usual leggy showgirl-type, this Lola is played by a stocky fellow with 5 o’clock shadow. Tenor Patrick Shelton manages the singing and physical comedy with aplomb. But it does put the comedy in a decidedly different key when Joe Hardy, the hero Lola’s trying to seduce, is played by a woman (Rachel Eve Holmes), and the legs Lola’s flashing are swathed to the ankles in denim.
     On that level, this Damn Yankees is kind of a plain-clothes burlesque of outmoded gender roles. And that’s a pretty smart way to do a show where said roles conform almost entirely to mid-century type: Men as jocks, sports nuts or Mephistophelian manipulators, women as long-suffering housewives or vampy seducers.
     Such casting, for instance, makes a real knuckleball out of Act II opening number “The Game,” wherein a rough-and-ready group of nine women playing Senators sing of the sexual conquests they passed up for the love of baseball: “To our women one and all / We will see you in the fall."
     It’s probably no coincidence that the lone role for which gender isn’t reverse-cast is that of Gloria Thorpe (Katie Manukyan), the prototypical career-gal newspaper reporter. (You'd actually lose subtext by casting this role with a man.)
     As you’d expect from Opera Theater, the cast, backed by a small live orchestra, is comprised of classically trained singers from around the country, and a few seem more comfortable singing than acting. But overall, the cast is strong. Standouts include Kelley Kimball, having a blast as the crusty Senators’ manager, Van Buren. And watch out for Julia Fox as the devilish, red-jacketed Applegate: It’s an enjoyably hammy, mostly non-singing role, but in Act II, Fox makes the most, and then some, of her big number, “Those Were the Good Old Days.”
     Four performances of Damn Yankees remain, starting with the 7:30 p.m. show tomorrow and continuing through the Sat., Aug. 1 matinee.
     Tickets are $25-65. They can be purchased here.

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