I had been excited about seeing this production for a while, mainly because I had never seen it on stage. I had seen the film and I know the music so well that I have been singing it (badly) non-stop since the Landor Theatre announced that Damn Yankees was coming to town.
It has also gave me a chance to visit yet another great fringe theatre. I got myself in a bit of a pickle with travel plans when I realised that Clapham North is nowhere near Clapham Junction but only a hop skip and a jump away from Victoria station, this is a very accessible theatre. It is a gem, the theatre is small and intimate and the pub below airy and welcoming (and the squid excellent – but that’s by the by).
The Musical comedy Damn Yankees is set in 1938 and is written by George Abbot and Douglass Wallop. The music and lyrics are by Richard Alder and Jerry Ross who also wrote The Pyjama Game recently revived at Chichester and in the West End.
Set in the 1950s, the story is based on Faust and revolves round baseball devotee Joe Boyd Gary Bland (Hedda Garbler, Epidemic). Joe is offered a deal by Mr Applegate, who – shock horror – turns out to be the devil, to trade his comfortable life to become ‘Joe Hardy’, the best long ball hitter that the Washington Senators have ever seen. Joe is promised that he will ultimately lead his favourite team to win the pennant. Joe is shrewd enough however to bargain with Applegate Jonathan D Ellis (Les Miserablés, Blood Brothers) and insists on a get-out clause in case things don’t go to plan which of course they don’t.
It doesn’t take long for Joe to miss his old life with loving wife Meg Nova Skip (Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love) so Mr Applegate has to do everything in his power to keep Joe’s soul. He throws many obstacles in his way including the sultry vamp Lola Poppy Tierney (Witches of Eastwick, Aspects of Love).
First produced on Broadway in the mid 1950s Damn Yankees unfortunately hasn’t stood the test of time and unfortunately now seems a little dated, but that doesn’t deflect from the production.
The tunes are as catchy as ever and the three piece band led by musical director Michael Webborn was great. I enjoyed the ensemble dance routines choreographed by Robbie O’Reilly, particularly the hilarious and slightly naughty ‘Heart’ which was sung by the male members of the cast dressed only in towels – yes really.
The other notable number was Those were the Good Old Days sung by Jonathan D Ellis who’s devilishly camp Mr Applegate was outrageously funny. An interesting way to play the role and surprisingly it works.
Directed by Robert McWhir, the show is set in the Washington Senators’ Locker Room with an armchair that gets wheeled in together with a fireplace that is used to best effect to depict Joe and Meg’s home. The simplicity works a treat up until the courtroom scene in the second act which looked out of place in a locker room.
Unfortunately sitting at the side of the stage was a mistake. All the action faces forward and therefore I got a very disjointed view and sitting near to the band also meant that the music drowned out some of the speeches and song lyrics. Enjoyment would have definitely been enhanced by sitting facing the stage.
I would recommend Damn Yankees for a fun night out, it’s warm-hearted, amusing and slightly nostalgic.
Damn Yankees runs until the 8th November at the Landor Theatre, Clapham North.
Tickets are priced at £20 (£18cons) and are available here