The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is currently presenting Damn Yankees, which tells the story of Joe Boyd, a life-long Washington Senators fan who just once wants his team to beat the New York Yankees. For those who may not be aware, the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins, bringing with them their star third-baseman Harmon Killebrew — and any Twins fan can relate to that wish to see their team beat those Yankees, still a thorn in the side of this team.
What I didn’t expect was to see Boyd’s wish answered by the Devil in the form of Mr. Applegate (Monte Riegel Wheeler), who offers to turn Boyd into baseball hero Joe Hardy — who will bring the Senators that yearned for pennant. Applegate makes one mistake: allowing Boyd an escape clause which leads to problems for him and hope for Boyd/Hardy.
This production is Ordway-produced with an updated concept. Most interesting is the casting of African-American actors to play the lead characters of Joe Boyd (Lawrence Clayton) and Joe Hardy (Thay Floyd), thus portraying an interracial marriage between Joe and Meg (Ann Morrison).
Damn Yankees is set in the mid-1950s in Washington D.C. Historically, professional baseball was integrated in 1947 with the signing of Jackie Robinson, and interracial marriages, while still against the law in 22 states, had always been allowed in the District of Columbia. According to a program note, the producers’ hope was that “this contemporary staging…provokes thoughtful reflection on historical and social norms over the past 60 years.”
Under the direction of James A. Rocco, the Ordway production is well-acted with a cast of strong voices, and features energetic dance numbers. Floyd, as Joe Hardy, stands out as the enthusiastic young man living his dream of playing baseball while yearning for the life he traded away.
The production moves the orchestra up from the pit and place them center stage; to me, they were more a distraction than an addition, since they were not part of the story line. It feels like the set was designed first and then the show was staged around the set, rather than having the set enhance the storytelling. The music at times overpowered the lyrics, which is always a problem in a musical that uses the lyrics to tell the story. Audiences will recognize a few songs such as “Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants,” but most will be unfamiliar to today’s theatergoers.
If you appreciate musical theater, take this opportunity to see one of the classics, playing at the Ordway through June 28, and make plans to return in August for the next installment of four Ordway-produced shows: The Pirates of Penzance.