Peoria Players Theatre
May 1 - 3 & 6 - 10
By Stan Strickler
Damn Yankees opened appropriately on Friday at Peoria Players just as the baseball season is beginning. The show is a nostalgic look back at baseball when the Yankees won the pennant every year, and they were the team that everyone loved to hate. The musical opened in 1955 and like many 50’s musicals it has a love story that will turn out well, some dance numbers, a big opening chorus number, comic characters and oddly enough a requisite song with a Spanish flair.
Based loosely on the Faust legend, the story revolves around Joe Boyd an avid Washington Senators fan who is tired of losing to the Yankees every year and says he would sell his soul for a long ball hitter for his favorite team. Enter Mr. Applegate who promises that Joe will become that hitter as long as he is willing to sell his soul. Joe agrees but not before getting an escape clause in his contract should he change his mind. Joe transforms into Joe Hardy and leaves his wife behind for the chance to play baseball for the season. As the season progresses he realizes how much he misses his wife, and Applegate fearing that Joe will exercise his right to escape sends in his ally Lola to seduce Joe. Naturally Joe stays loyal to his wife and because Lola realizes how much Joe loves Meg, the whole thing ends happily with the Senators winning the pennant and Joe back with his wife.
Director Jimmy Ulrich has assembled an excellent cast for this production. Bill Barr as Joe Boyd does a credible job as the long suffering fan, but when he transforms into Joe Hardy not only does he become younger, but his singing voice improves tremendously. Deric Kimler as Joe Hardy is a talented singer and actor and a decent dancer as well. It is a pleasure to watch him on stage. Also outstanding in this production are Ingrid Beyhl as Lola, Bryan Blanks as Mr. Applegate, Wendy Blickenstaff as Meg and Jillian Risinger as Gloria. Ms. Beyhl brings a sexiness and charm to the stage in her number “Whatever Lola Wants” and she shows a tenderness as she falls in love with Joe. Bryan Blanks is all evil and conniving, Ms. Blickenstaff shows her emotional side and she longs for Joe and Ms. Risinger plays the part of the nosy reporter quite well. As the comic over the top characters Mary Ellen Ulrich and Julie Simmons were audience favorites.
All in all this was an excellent production of an old fashioned musical. The singing was really good and music director Lyndsay Byers seems to get the best of the cast. Maggie Sloter as orchestra conductor is also to be commended. It is nice in this age to hear a live orchestra rather than electronically produced music. The set design by Christine Paternoga was also excellent allowing for quick movement between the many scenes. As you entered the theater the feel of attending a baseball game was quite evident with large Washington Senators logos facing the audience. This feeling of attending a game was further enhanced by singing the National Anthem at the beginning of the show and “Take Me out to the Ballgame” at the end of intermission. Jimmy Ulrich made a wise decision to include these touches in order to make the experience more real.
The choreography by Dedra Kaiser was varied and good, however most dance numbers went on far too long, a criticism I heard from several other audience members during intermission. If the dancers were true professionals, I don’t think this would have mattered as much. But most of the dance numbers could have been cut by half or possibly even eliminated. My only other complaint is the inclusion of the chorus of children in the show. While I have no objection to children onstage, this touch seems unnecessary since its sole purpose seemingly is to sell more tickets to proud parents. While the children were fine singers and dancers, their inclusion only served to make the show longer and did nothing to further the movement of the show.
All in all though, this was an enjoyable evening with familiar songs, a pleasant story, and good singing and acting. It moved quickly, but not quite quickly enough.
Damn Yankees continues through Sunday beginning at 7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday and at 2:30 pm on Sunday. Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for students aged 18 & under and are available at the Peoria Players box office, by calling 309-688-4473 or online at www.peoriaplayers.org
Posted May 4, 2015