That sturdy evergreen built on a Faustian pact, Damn Yankees remains popular for many good reasons. The Richard Adler-Jerry Ross score, one of golden Broadway’s last shouts before the arrival of Elvis, is as good as new under Corinne Aquilina’s musical direction in this revival at Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse (running through July 30).
All the players for the sad-sack Washington Senators comprise an enlarged male chorus. No matter how they perform on the field, they must be fleet and precise on stage. Enter Tony Award-winning choreographer Scott Wise, who shows us what’s what in the first big production number, “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.,” where the team is taunted by nosey girl reporter Gloria Thorpe (Kristen Gehling). Musically, it’s perhaps the least memorable song of the show, but Wise cleverly turns it into a visual dazzler, in which a coach’s hand signals become dance movements. Steps and leaps grow out of the athletics of the game.
Putting some spritz into the second theme of the show, Eisenhower-era marital fidelity, becomes the job of director David Lowenstein. Paunchy Joe Boyd (Bill Nolte) might sell his soul to the devil, named Mr. Applegate (Richard B. Watson), to help the Senators win the pennant, but he never stops yearning for his abandoned wife Meg (Leslie Becker). Nolte of the Goodspeed Opera House gives old Joe a solid plausibility lacking in other productions, while Becker makes Meg an enticing Betty Crocker.
Meanwhile, devilish temptress Lola (Kate Marilley) has become an unanticipated comedienne, putting a kind of mock Carmen Miranda spin on the memorable “Whatever Lola Wants.” There’s real affection in her duet, “Two Lost Souls,” with hunky jock Joe Hardy (Aaron Young). The casting of Young, a multi-threat WASP dreamboat who sings “A Man Doesn’t Know,” implies old Joe got quite a payoff from his satanic bargain.
The two best songs in the show are the ones we all remember. “Heart” is richly delivered by Tom Flagg as Coach Van Buren. And the real show-stopper is Applegate’s soft-shoe, “Those Were the Good Old Days.” Richard B. Watson’s Applegate, a devil as ingratiating as a game show host, steals many of the best lines.
PHOTO: Cast members of Merry-Go-Round’s Damn Yankees. Photo by Isaac James.