I’ll tell you the entire plot of “Damn Yankees”; don’t worry, it will only take a second.
Old Joe Boyd (Jeff Beck) would give anything to see his beloved Washington Senators defeat those “damn Yankees,” up to and including selling his soul to the devil (James A. Dale), which he does. The devil makes him into young Joe Hardy (Josh Christensen), a baseball phenom who single-handedly brings the Senators to the penant. Unfortunately, Joe misses his wife Meg (Diane Rosser Nebeker) and must decide between being young and famous forever, or being old and married to his true love.
As is the case with so many of the conveniently plotted musicals of the ’40s and ’50s (“Brigadoon,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” to name two), his big “decision” turns out to be moot, because he winds up having it both ways. Hoorah!
“Damn Yankees,” playing through Feb. 6 at Salt Lake Community College’s Grand Theatre, is by no means a brilliant show. The plot is simple (yet achingly drawn-out, thanks to the prodigious use of looooong dance numbers), the dialogue is less-than-snappy, and the songs are quite good, though no better than any of the other “classic” musicals from that era.
But the Grand Theatre’s production of it, to paraphrase one of the show’s songs, certainly has heart. The performers give it their all, and there are some winning elements that give the show some life and zeal, even as we’re getting bogged down watching the baseball players dance for about the millionth time (the Washington Senators, we are to believe, were about the singin’est, dancin’est team in the major leagues).
Christensen’s performance as the young Joe is quite good, full of squeaky-clean exuberance — and he sings like a pro, too. Dale plays the devil (who goes by the name of Mr. Applegate) with flamboyant energy, vamping his way through the afterlife with more whimsicality than evil.
Some very good dance performances are turned in by Christensen, the devil’s henchperson Lola (Stephanie Frogley), and a Joe Hardy fan named Eddie (Tomy Josef).
And there are some nifty special effects, too. Old Joe’s tranformation into Young Joe is pretty cool, as is Mr. Applegate’s trick of waving from one side of the stage and then appearing on the other side a second later.
All of this points toward a cast and director (Richard Scott) who are obviously enthusiastic about the project. The show seems rather quaint nowadays — you can tell it was written 40 years ago — and some of those musical numbers do slow things down. But overall, the show is harmless, entertaining fun — more fun, I’d say, than sitting through an entire baseball game.
When I used the word "quaint" in the review, what I meant was "sexist." What is it with all these old musicals? "Brigadoon" is the same way. "Damn Yankees" is a weird show, probably only enjoyable for people who already like it.
There's a part in the show when the devil sings about "the good ol' days" -- specifically, when Jack the Ripper was born, when Attila the Hun was alive, and when various other terrible things happened. This song is one step away from mentioning Hitler and the Holocaust. The devil is wacky and funny! This show bites.