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DAMN YANKEES Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons/O'Connell & Company
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May 13, 2022, 11:21
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Through May 15
DAMN YANKEES Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons/O’Connell & Company

By Augustine Warner

In this age of constant sports on TV, cable, streaming, anywhere, a shrinking few know that back in the Fifties, the National Pastime…baseball…dominated sports.
And, in those days, the New York Yankees dominated baseball, World Series winners, year after year (of course, not every year but it seemed that way to Yankees haters).
There were a lot of haters.
The massed haters triggered a successful novel, Douglas Wallop’s “The Year the Yankees Lost The Pennant.”
That became the musical “Damn Yankees.”
Theater being theater, it’s been on that list of shows which don’t get done anymore, perhaps because the Yankees haven’t been that good for a long time.
Now, O’Connell & Company has an entertaining production and there is a large-scale production in the Shaw Festival’s Festival Theatre.
It’s all both a throwback to the Broadway glory days and a concession to modern demands, those old three-act musicals, today compressed into very long mergers of the first two acts into one.
O’Connell’s version is a large cast and a not-so-large stage and that long first act.
While it’s about mid-century baseball and memories of black and white TV, this is a much older story, the legend of Faust, the man who traded his soul for fame and glory, giving rise to literature across the European languages, Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” to Goethe’s “Faust” to the belief that Robert Johnson traded his soul for Blues stardom at a Mississippi Delta crossroads.
Here, it’s obsessed baseball fan Joe Boyd (Michael Galante) whose wife Meg (Katy Miner) is reconciled to losing her husband to baseball for the then-shorter season.
Suddenly, he’s gone and she has no idea what happened.
The Devil, in the form of Applegate (Kris Bartolomeo), has accepted Joe’s offer of trading his soul for beating the Yankees and he turns into Joe Hardy (Kevin Deese).
In one of the unlikely parts of the story, Applegate and Hardy visit the Washington Senators and the losing team gives him a tryout, signs him and suddenly becomes a surging, winning team, “Heart.”
Reporter Gloria Thorpe (Colleen Pine” wants to find out more about the new star, leading the vocalization of his lying life story “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.”
Director and Choreographer Joey Bucheker has a strong ensemble to work with, particularly the manager and members of the Senators team, in numbers like “Heart” and “Shoeless Joe.”
He’s less successful with some of the lead parts, particularly Bartolomeo’s rug-chewing Applegate and Aimée Walker’s Lola.
The temptress is from Applegate’s deep bench of the Damned and the Devil wants her to convince Joe Hardy to stick with his deal.
“Whatever Lola Wants” is one of the musical high points of the show and here it’s technically strong and emotionally not there.
With Joe Hardy the star, the Senators are heading to victory over the Yankees, even as the length of the soul trade runs toward its deadline and the parallel end of the baseball regular season.
Applegate must cheat to block Joe Hardy from walking away.
It’s all fun, going back to the days when the Yankees were not only the most celebrated team but were a team of legendary baseball players, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Rizzuto and manager Casey Stengel, a crowd of raucous, high-living athletes in pin stripes.
They were really, really good and so often in those fall days when the shadows would lengthen in the late afternoons across the old Yankee Stadium as the World Series dominated sports and sports coverage and fans of the other team would lament those “Damn Yankees” and shout: Wait ‘til next year.
This musical is for those fans whose teams just can’t do it.
Think of local Bills or Sabres fans over long, losing seasons.
Here, it’s an entertaining show and imagine local sports bars filled with fans singing “Heart” or “The Game.”
This production has its mentioned problems but it has some strong performances, Christian Riso’s Senators manager Van Buren, Miner’s Meg, Galante’s Joe Boyd, Pine’s Thorpe and the Senators team, ball players rescued from mediocre teams and mediocre seasons by the sudden glory of a run toward the World Series in a season before the endless playoff rounds which drag on toward winter.
As we cruise into summer and the grass grows green, it’s worth heading into the baseball season of past years as Joe Hardy and the Senators run the bases against those “Damn Yankees”

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