Damn Yankees, Landor Theatre. Review by Julia Pascal.
This show originally opened on Broadway in 1955 and is a modern Faustian pact where a middle aged baseball fanatic sells his soul to the devil for youth and the chance to beat the Yankees. The stage show, with book by George Abbott, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, is based on Douglass Wallop’s novel The Year The Yankees Lost the Pennant.
The tiny Landor Theatre has bravely restaged the show and twenty artists throw themselves into the 1950s with energy, enthusiasm and total engagement. Where the production works best is with the more experienced actors. Jonathan D Ellis as Mephistopheles has huge presence and comic skills. He is equally well matched by Poppy Tierney as sexy Lola and Nova Skipp as the journalist with a nose for a story. There is also a warmly relaxed authenticity to Gary Bland’s Joe.
However the new graduate actors who play the ten baseball players, although they are terrific gymnasts and dancers, exude an English camp that jars when they are supposed to represent 1950s American machismo. Campery is perfect for Ellis’ devil but when the regular guys sing about wanting a woman, it is hard to take them seriously.
The musical requires a gifted set of creatives. Richard Lambert’s lighting is subtle and smart and Nina Morley’s costume design is exquisitely realised. However, although it is satisfying to see the dress so realistically fifties, why did some of the baseball players wear long hair and 2014 pony tails when they surely should have sported crew cuts?
It is great to have the chance to see this rarely seen musical in London and of course to hear the classic What Lola Wants, Lola Gets. Director Robert McWhir and Musical Director Michael Webborn have created a strong ensemble. Apart from the homoerotic elements of the musical, which pushes the 1950s original into a modern London scene, Damn Yankees is enjoyable and refreshing.
Julia Pascal © October 2014.