Skin in the Game

Damn Yankees (Cabrillo)Cabrillo UserpicYou gotta have skin.
All you really need is skin.
Skin’s the thing that if you got it outside,
It helps keep your insides in.
It covers your nose,
And it’s wrapped around your toes.
And inside it you put lemon meringue,
And outside ya hang your clothes.

Whoops. Right song. Wrong lyrics.

Those of you who are old enough will remember that parody song on Allan Sherman‘s album “Allan in Wonderland”. The underlying tune was from the song “Heart”, written for the musical Damn Yankees back in 1955 by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. I bring this all up because last night we saw the Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) production of “Damn Yankees“, and about my only complaint with the production had to do with skin. More on that later.

If you recall, we had decided to drop our Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) subscription when the 2014-2015 season was announced: Memphis, Company, Oklahoma, and Mary Poppins. None of which I had a strong desire to see again. So I was pleasantly surprised when the 2015-2016 season was announced: Damn Yankees, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Children of Eden, and The Little Mermaid. These were all shows that I had seen only in amateur productions (high school, middle school, church), or only in the movie version. So we rejoined as subscribers, and it felt good to be back. The Cabrillo organization is a great one — doing a helluva lot in the community and for the community — and it is one we are glad to be able to support. They also help a lot of theatre people get started in the industry — I still remember when we saw Katherine McPhee in Annie Get Your Gun.

As I noted, our only exposure to Damn Yankees was a high school production. Luckily it was a good one — the Van Nuys HS production back in 2010. In many ways, no one can top Quest as Applegate. But I did want to see a professional production, and the Cabrillo one was a very good one.

For those unfamilar with this 1955 show (which starred such folks as Gwen Verdon as Lola and Ray Walston as Applegate)… or its late 1990s revival (with Bebe Neuwirth as Lola and either Victor Garber or Jerry Lewis as Applegate), “Damn Yankees” is a sports-oriented retelling of the Faustian legend. It is set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. The story is set in motion when a long-time baseball fan, real estate agent Joe Boyd, offers to sell his soul to see his team, the Washington Senators, win the pennant away from those damn Yankees. Be careful what you say, for the Devil (in the form of Mr. Applegate) shows up and offers Joe the chance to leave his long-suffering baseball widow Meg and become the long-ball hitter the Senators need. Joe agrees, but insists on an escape clause: he can decide the evening before the last game to get out and return to his wife. Applegate waves his hands, and Joe Boyd disappears and young Joe Hardy replaces him. Joe shows up at the Senators locker room, and convinces the manager to add him to the team. Everyone is won over by this man, except for a young reporter who is suspicious. While she investigates his background, Joe begins longing for his wife. Joe’s visits back to his old home get under the skin of Applegate, who plots what he can do to get Joe away from his wife. He sends a skilled homewrecker, Lola, after him, but she fails to seduce him. Applegate decides to switch tactics to ensure Joe’s failure. He releases false information about Joe Hardy’s true identity being “Shifty McCoy”, an escaped criminal and con artist. When Gloria discovers this information, she presses charges, and Joe is forced into court. As the Senators prepare for the final game against the Yankees for the pennant, Joe goes on trial. Joe tells the Applegate he wants out, and Applegate says he has to confirm this at 5 minutes before midnight. But the trial has various delays, and at the magic mark, just as Joe is proven innocent, the delays prevent him from exercising the clause. Joe heads into the final game, but Lola has drugged Applegate, and he doesn’t show until the very end. In order to have the Senators lose (the plan all along, for then there will be loads of suicides and anguish from the fans), Applegate does the only thing he can do: turns Joe back as he is catching the final run. Joe Hardy disappears, and Joe Boyd returns to his wife. Applegate tries to convince Joe Boyd to go back to being Joe Hardy, but the older Joe prefers the love of his wife. I’ll note there’s a longer synopsis (alas, of the 1994 version) on Wikipedia; the primary difference appears to be the setting of the novelty number, “Whos Got The Pain” and the setting for “Two Lost Souls”. Cabrillo appears to have done the 1955 version, with the “Pain” number as part of the Talent Show, and the “Souls” number done in a nightclub. That must be what they are licensing.

The story, by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop based on Wallop’s novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant“, is a little bit creaky in this age of instant sports stats and online research. However, if you transport yourself to the 1950s, you’re fine. The music, by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, also mostly stills shines. The major problem is the number “Who’s Got the Pain?”, which to this day has nothing to do with the plot and makes absolutely no sense — a dance number inserted to accomodate the conventions of the day and not move the plot one iota. I enjoy the dance of “Whatever Lola Wants”, although I find the number itself a bit odd. Hands down, however, I love the number “Those Were The Good Old Days”.  But the plot is what the plot is: this is a 1955 classic that made the careers of a number of actors, and it still has wonderful roles that actors yearn to do.

The Cabrillo production was directed by Kirsten Chandler (FB). Chandler did a good job of bringing out good performances given the wide mix of skills in the cast. The choreography by John Todd (FB) was extremely energetic — I particularly recall the dance sequence in “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” and, of course, “Whatever Lola Wants”.  In general all the dance was quite fun to watch.

Leading off on the side of good were John Atkins (FB) as Joe Boyd, Sarah Tattersall (FB) as Meg Boyd, and Travis Leland (FB) as Joe Hardy. Atkins, as the senior Joe, projected the requisite old and creaky, and had a lovely singing voice (used to good effect in “Goodbye Old Girl”. Tattersall brought a youth, vitality, and lovelyness to Meg that I hadn’t seen before, which together with a wonderful singing voice was quite magical. The only problem was that, from the mezzanine, she seemed quite younger than Atkin’s Joe — making the statement that he married her when she was in her 20s a bit odd. She needs to somehow come across as a bit more 50ish, lovely as she is. But, overall, in the scheme of things, that is really a minor problem. Leland (who we saw before in Adding Machine) was a wonderful young Joe — nice voice, nice stage presence, and giving off the aura of the good guy that Joe is. He seemed to fit better with Tattersall’s Meg than did old Joe; this was demonstrated in their lovely ballad “A Man Doesn’t Know”.

Leading off on the side of evil were John Sloman (FB) as Applegate and Renèe Marino (FB) as Lola. Although he could have projected just a touch more malevolence, I enjoyed Sloman’s Applegate. He had slight-of-hand magic down pat, and did a wonderful job on “Good Old Days”, which requires a spectacular song and dance man. Marino’s Lola was a knockout. Spunky, sexy, and playful. She did a wonderful job with her two big numbers in the first act, “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and “Whatever Lola Wants”, and she was very touching with Leland in the second act’s “Two Lost Souls”. Just fun to watch.

In the second tier of roles, I’d like to highlight Katheryne Penny (FB)’s Gloria Tharpe. Her performance in “Shoeless Joe” was breath-taking — literally, as she must have been out of breath when she was done. Her performance there dancing, singing, and acting made me think of the prior Katherine on the stage (and I hope she has as much success).

Providing mostly comic support as Sister and Doris, respectively, were Farley Cadena (FB) [a Cabrillo regular] and Tara McGrath (FB). Both provided that well, and were fun to watch in their reprise of “Heart”.

The Washington Senators consisted of Ray Mastrovito (FB) (Mr. Welch – Owner); Tom G. McMahon (FB) (Van Buren – Manager); J. Bailey Burcham (FB) (Smokey – Catcher); Timothy Joshua Hearl (FB) (Vernon); Michael Mittman (FB) (Rocky); Tyler Matthew Burk (FB) (Lynch, Sohovik), Ramiro Garcia Jr. (FB) (Micky); Jotapè Lockwood (FB) (Del); Dylan MacDonald (FB) (Ozzie); Rile Reavis (FB) (Henry, Postmaster); Joshua Rivera (FB) (Buster); Brance William Souza (Bouley); Julian Xavier (Bubba). They worked together as a team, and were particularly hilarious to watch during the opening practice prior to “Heart” (and they did a good job on “Heart” as well). The lead members of the team (Van Buren, Rocky, Smokey, Vernon) were particularly good in “Heart” in terms of performance, movement, and voice. Alas, it was during “Heart” that the skin issue mentioned in the beginning occurred. Suffice it to say that I saw some things that might have been better unseen — and the problem was not a performance one, but a directoral or choreographical choice. It didn’t detract from the show, but it stuck in my head.

Rounding out the adult ensemble were Nichole Beeks (FB), Bernadette Bentley (FB), Jenny Hoffman (FB), Janelle Loren, and Alysa Perry (FB). They were very good rounding out the dance in “Six Months Out of Every Year” and in the background of “Two Lost Souls”.  The Children’s Ensemble consisted of Addie Chandler, Calista Loter, Micah Meyers, Drew Rosen, and Marcello Silva. They were cute in their performance of the reprise of Heart, and even cuter leading the audience in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch.

The music was under the direction of Cassie Nickols (FB), who also served as conductor. In addition to Nickols, the orchestra consisted of Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Alto Sax]; Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe, English-Horn, Tenor Sax, Clarinet]; Matt Germaine/FB [Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Clarinet]; Darrin Smith [Bassoon, Baritone Sax, Clarinet]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I]; Chris Maurer [Trumpet II]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone I]; Robert Coomber [Trombone II]; Sharon Cooper [Violin I, Concertmaster]; Sally Berman [Violin II]; Marisa McLeod (FB) [Viola]; Stephen Green [Cello]; Ben Gisberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer]; Shane Harry/FB [Double String Bass]; and Tyler Smith/FB [Set Drums, Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor, and Darryl Archibald (FB) was the Music Supervisor.

Turning to the technical side: There was no credit for set design; the program notes that scenery was provided by FCLO Music Theatre (FB). The set was pretty straightforward, with sets that rolled in for the Boyd home and the dugout, and a basic multilevel structure that served as the stadium and other purposes. Prop Design was by Alex Choate (FB). Costume design was by Christine Gibson (FB), with costumes provided by FCLO Music Theatre (FB), The Theatre Company (FB) in Upland, and Costume World Theatrical (FB). The costumes worked pretty well; I particuarly appreciated the choice of uniform number 42 for the one black dancer. About my only costume quibble was that it kept looking like Katheryne Penny’s sweater would burst during the “Shoeless Joe” number.  Hair and makeup design was by Cassie Russek (FB); it worked pretty well, although I might have worked a tad more grey into Meg’s hair. Sound design was by CMT regular Jonathan Burke (FB); my only comment here was that the balanced needed to be reworked to either increase the amplification of the actors, or decrease the amplification of the orchestra. Lighting was by Rand Ryan, and exhibited the usual Cabrillo over-dependence on follow-spots (which in this case were occasionally late or off position slightly). Other than the spots, it worked well. A few of the buried credits that deserve highlighting. Ray Mastrovito (FB), who played Mr. Welch, is also credited for Applegate’s Magic Effects — this was one thing I particularly liked about this Applegate, so kudos to him. The preshow and intermission video design was by David Engel, and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of “Who’s On First“.  Rounding out the credits: Gary Mintz was the Technical Director. David Elzer/Demand PR (Public Relations). John W. Calder III (FB) and Chris Warren Murry (FB) were the Production Stage Managers. Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

Damn Yankees has one more weekend at Cabrillo. Tickets are available through the Cabrillo web site; discount tickets are available through Goldstar. It’s an enjoyable production.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: October was being held for the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB); they’ve finally announced some shows but nothing yet is of interest. Given their delays, I started booking weekends with non-fringe shows. The fourth weekend of October brings “Uncle Vanya” at Antaeus Theatre Company (FB) in North Hollywood. Halloween weekend sees me at CSUN for Urinetown, and then both of us out in Simi Valley for “The Addams Family” at the Simi Cultural Arts Center (Simi Actors Rep Theatre (FB)). The following weekend sees us back in Simi for the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7. We then go out to Perris for “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11 (I can’t skip seeing my buddy Thomas and his friend Percy). The bookings for November conclude with Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14; the rest of the month is currently open. December brings “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) the first weekend, followed by a mid-week stint as a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). December also has dates held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). There are also a few other interesting productions I’m keeping my eyes open for. The first is the Fall show at The Blank Theatre (FB), “Something Truly Monstrous”, sounds wonderful — however, it runs through November 8, so squeezing it in would mean a double weekend. The show at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) also sounds like an interesting exploration of clutter —  but “The Object Lesson” only runs through October 4, and I’m not sure we can squeeze it in. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.