I waited almost 60 years to see Damn Yankees from its 1955 Broadway debut – and it was worth that special wait as we thoroughly enjoyed the opening night of the Light Opera Works at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, Il. But, please don’t wait to see this upbeat show as its limited run continues for only 4 more performances ending this Sunday, June 15. You will definitely see a home run if you attend one of its performances!
The premise of the musical is that mild-mannered middle-aged Joe Boyd (Kirk Swenk), a die-hard Washington Senators baseball fan from Hannibal, Missouri, will do anything to help them win the pennant. That includes selling his soul to the Devil (brilliantly played by the multi-costumed Rudy Hogenmiller).
With one magical devilish pose, Mr. Applegate, aka The Devil, transforms Boyd into the young, handsome and naive Joe Hardy (Brian Acker) who shows up in the dugout of the Senators convinced he can make the team the pennant winner against the Yankees. After much cajoling and some help from Mr. Applegate/The Devil, the Senators’ management relents and Boyd becomes the baseball sensation of the year.
Boyd must make a decision that will affect his life and many others’ lives. Is it worth the fame and fortune to stay young and famous? Or is it better to go back to life as normal with his mid-western roots and values along with marriage to the woman he adores?
The scenic designer, Adam Veness, takes us back to the mid-1950s - the Boyd’s comfortable, traditional living room, with its black-and-white television complete with dog ears antennae on top. Veness transforms the stage to the baseball field and, in one scene, transforms the stage to the devil’s very own home as he chats with the seductress Lola (“Whatever Lola Wants…Lola Gets”) about how to keep Joe Hardy with the Washington Senators.
The large cast also includes Erica Evans (Lola), Judy Knudston (Meg Boyd, the Mid-west wife), Jenny Lamb (Gloria Thorpe) and Rick Rapp (Van Buren). There is a delightful bunch of kids singing and dancing their way across the stage throughout the show; and the 1950’s neighborhood housewives stand out as we remember them once as our own mothers or even ourselves at a tender age. Damn Yankees is based on the novel by Douglass Wallop, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” The book is by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop; the words and music by the famed Richard Adler and Jerry Ross.
Kudos to the 28-piece orchestra led by Roger L. Bingaman, in his red Senators’ cap. They enlivened the show along with the talents of stage director and choreographer Kevin Bellie, costume designers Jesus Perezand Jane DeBondt, lighting designer Andrew H. Meyers, sound designer Palmer Jankins, stage manager Tom Campbell and production manager, Katie Beeks. Sienna Kusek is responsible for the hairdos and makeup of yesteryear and Cassy Schillo ably designed the props.
Rudy Hogenmiller wears two hats for the show. (Actually, many hats, in his faaaannnntastttic performance). As artistic director of the Light Opera Works, he repeatedly shines. As Mr. Applegate/The Devil he offers us an out-of-body, comical, persuasive, charming, but often diabolical vision of a conniving devil. His outrageous costumes and hats added to the audience’s laughter and amusements. And, Hogenmiller has been an actor, director and choreographer during his 40-year thesatricl career As mentioned, Damn Yankees won the Tony Award for Best Musical of 1955. It starred Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon, with choreography by Bob Fosse. If you missed it then, you still have a chance to see it.
The Cahn Auditorium is at 600 Emerson Street in Evanston.
The show will run on:
Wednesday, June 11 at 2 pm
Friday, June 13 at 8 pm
Saturday, June 14 at 8 pm
Sunday, June 15 at 2 pm
Tickets range from $34 5o $94. Ages 21 and younger are half price. To order tickets call the Light Opera Works box office at 847-920-5360 or order online 24 hours a day at The Light Opera Works website. www.light operaworks.com
Photo Credit : Chris Ocken