A Devil of a Show

Last night, we went to go see our second show in this weekend of three: “Damn Yankees” at Van Nuys High School. Now “Damn Yankees” is not one of those typical high school shows, and it was nice to see it being done.

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”. Van Nuys 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.

Van Nuys did a pretty good job with this production—in fact, it was one of the best I have seen them do. This one had some very strong singing and dancing. Of particular note were Quest Sky Zeidler’s Applegate and Glory Smith’s Meg. Both were excellent: well acted and reasonable well sung (note that the Applegate role has never been cast for its singing prowess). Sean Scott was pretty good as Joe Boyd and Joe Hardy—I wasn’t that taken with the older Joe (especially singing), but the younger Joe was very strong and only had a few notes that he had trouble reaching for. Glessida Magaling was also pretty good as Lola: her singing was fine, but dancing for the “Whatever Lola Wants” number was weak. I blame this more on the choreographer than the student; the routine came off as fake-sexy and actually created some laughs. That routine needs to be super sexy, but that’s also difficult and uncomfortable to present with a high-school girl these days. Also particularly strong was Ashylyn Killham as Gloria and Aikiro Tiongson as Vanburen, the coach. Overall, even with the typical problems one sees in a high school production (some voices not 100% able to reach all the notes, a few confused lines, and the questionable choreography), it was a strong and enjoyable performance. Rounding out the cast were Tylor Morris (Lynch), Priscilla Legaspi (Miss Weston), Anjela Tokadjian (Postmaster), Safia Allibhoy (Commissioner), Maria “Alex” Geronilla (Doris), Talia McIlwain (Sister), Rhomas O’Hara (Rocky), Andrew Kim (Henry), Erin Geronimi (Linville), Regine Bautista (Lowe), Matthew Golden (Smokey), Mike Hill (Vernon), Kiran Sanghiran (Welch), and Ariel Kostrewski and Camille Santos in the ensemble. I’ll note that this casting gave the baseball team two women, which created an interesting scene in the discussion before Lola’s big dance (where the women were transformed, and looked more like the other player’s dates),

The set was also unique for Van Nuys: Mr. Tom Kirkpatrick and his stage class constructed a very raked diamond, with various locales (such as Joe’s home, the locker room) rolled up to the side. This made all the action easy to see, but must have been hell (well, so to speak) to dance on. The large orchestra (led by Mr. Robert Eisenhart) was also excellent, and provided great inter-scene music during scenery changes.

Where Van Nuys did have trouble was on the technical side: particularly, lights and sound. In the past this has been very strong, but for this production, something was missing*. The crew’s timing was off (lights did not come on sharply on cue, microphones came on off cue), and there were numerous crackles and static from the microphones. When the sound worked, it was great—but it got worse as the night went on. Other than the timing problems, I thought the lighting was pretty good: there were no real spots and no overuse of the moving lights, but there were some questionable color choices. The tech crew is under the direction of Mr. Marque Coy.
(*: That’s an in-joke for those familiar with the story: My daughter used to be on the technical crew, but was effectively forced off at the beginning of the semester. Hopefully, we’ll see her back on the Van Nuys boards as an actor or stage manager)

The production was directed by Mr. Randy Olea, who did a good job getting the students to bring believable characters out. Choreography was by Anita Morales and was mostly OK, except that they didn’t know how to get Lola to dance right. They really should have brought in Mr. N to at least do her routines—Mr. N is a strong dancer, and could have made Lola’s dances something special. There were no specific credits for make-up and costumes, but I did want to note in particular Quest’s makeup and the costuming in general, which was excellent.

Last night was the final production of “Damn Yankees” at Van Nuys High School.

Upcoming Theatre. As for us, what’s upcoming on the theatre calendar? Tonight brings the April installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre. Next weekend takes me to “12 Angry Men” on April 24 (the rest of the family sees it on May 2). May looks to be equally busy, with “Little Shop of Horrors at Cabrillo Music Theatre (May 1), and “12 Angry Men” for Karen and Erin on May 2 @ 2pm (while I get ready for a Games Night at Temple that I’m running). The weekend of May 8 sees Karen and me at the So Cal Ren Faire on Saturday. The weekend of May 15 sees the CDF Conference for Karen and Erin, followed by The 39 Steps” at the Ahmanson at 8pm. The next weekend takes Erin to the Ren Faire, while we see the May installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre (May 16). The fourth weekend in May brings the Spring Dance Show at Van Nuys HS (May 20-22). The last weekend in May brings the Bat Mitzvah of a family friend, as well as “The Wedding Singer” at Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall (May 30 @ 2pm). June so far is mostly open, although I’m expecting that we’ll see “South Pacific” at the Ahmanson some weekend that month, and potentially the June “Meeting of Minds”. As for July, the month starts with “In The Heights” at the Pantages on July 3. The next weekend I’m holding upon for the first show of the 2010-2011 Colony season, “Grace & Glorie” (likely July 10). That weekend may also bring “It’s Top Secret”, a musical that is part of the Festival of New American Musicals, running Jun 19-July 18 at the NoHo Arts Center (likely July 11). July will also bring ; “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at REP East on July 17 (pending ticketing); a possible July “Meeting of Minds, and “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on July 31 24 (likely moved due to a birthday party).

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.