A musical classic gets a new look with the Manatee Players' Damn Yankees.
By Kay Kipling
Just in time for spring training, the Manatee Players are presenting that baseball-themed classic musical, Damn Yankees. It’s a tried-and-true perennial, but this production offers up some surprises.
The energy of the show is felt immediately as you approach the theater, as you’re greeted by the Pittsburgh Pirates mascot, hawkers of popcorn and peanuts and other cast members milling about the lobby. The Pirates, who’ve for decades held their spring training games in Bradenton, are producers of the musical, and that explains why Pirates uniforms are all over the stage, instead of the traditional Washington Senators, longtime losers to those hated New York Yanks.
There’s another obvious change, too. When Pirates fan Joe Boyd (Rodd Dyer) agrees to sell his soul to the devil, aka Mr. Applegate (Ken Basque), for a chance to help the Pirates to a winning season, he emerges from the deal not only a younger, healthier man, but as a young black man, Joe Hardy (Charles McKenzie), as well. It works, and many other things about the show do, too.
For starters, director/choreographer Rick Kerby has a strong ensemble cast of ball players, wives, reporters and assorted baseball fans, whom he moves about the stage efficiently and for maximum fun. The dance numbers may not hit the giddy heights of professional stagings, but the performers please with their simpler but appropriate routines.
Kerby’s also blessed with strong performances from the leads. Dyer and Meg Newsome, who’ve worked together numerous time on the Manatee stage, are a convincing middle-aged couple who may have occasional squabbles but find how much they miss and need each other when separated. McKenzie, with a strong dancer’s physique, is believable as a young ball player and likable as well, especially when fending off the advances of the siren Lola (Melanie Dan, who may not dance like Gwen Verdon but can certainly move her body in ways designed to seduce).
Tahlia Byers as girl reporter Gloria Thorpe is perkily energetic and upbeat, especially on the number Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo. Basque, a frequent performer for the Manatee Players, didn’t seem quite as at ease as usual as Mr. Applegate, but he certainly has his moments, especially when taunting poor young Joe Hardy, ruing his mistake in allowing him an escape clause, and on the “nostalgia” number Those Were the Good Old Days.
The costumes by Georgina Willmott and the set by Marc Lalosh add to the playful atmosphere of Damn Yankees, and Michael Sebastian’s musical direction and small orchestra lend consistent and lively support.
Damn Yankees runs through March 15; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.