The opening show of North Shore Music Theatre's 51st season is the 1956 Tony Award winning musical "Damn Yankees" with an all new updated production created for NSMT audiences and presented in association with The Boston Red Sox. The new spin on the show now tells the story of a die-hard Red Sox fan, Joe Boyd who sells his soul to... Mr. Applegate to help the 1957 Sox break the curse and take the pennant from the dreaded Yankees. Based on a concept by Jon Kimbell, NSMT's Artistic Director and Executive Producer, Joe DiPietro (I Love You! You're Perfect! Now Change!) has adapted the original book to feature plenty of surprises and special appearances of the Red Sox including the press night appearance of the Red Sox mascot ' Wally the Green Monster' and the 2004 World Series Trophy. Director/choreographer Barry Ivan invigorates this show with high energy from start to finish and molds his multitalented 19 cast members into a splendid mixture of both poignant and comic moments under his tutelage. Music director Bruce Barnes infuses the musical numbers with glorious renditions by the performers and a melodious sound from his topnotch orchestra. Their combined efforts show how good triumphs over evil, moving the audience to tears and laughter at all the right moments, winning it a well deserved standing ovation at the end of this fantastic musical presentation.
The theatre is transformed into Fenway Park during the baseball scenes while other sets are brought up by rising elevator platforms on the stage.The costumes also include vintage 1957 Red Sox uniforms. The revision of the script includes a clever opening dance number with the baseball players as well as having them sing "Heart" to show their belief in Joe Hardy at the end of Act 1. The revision rids the show of the dated Mambo song which closed Act 1 and did nothing to move the plot in the original show. The dance numbers created by Barry are high energy including the seduction dance of Lola, the baseball bat dance by Gloria and the team as well as the hysterically funny "The Game" dance where the team longs for some female companionship but keep exercising to forget it and the jazz dance for "Two Lost Souls". Also impressive is the opening dance number by the team and the "Heart" number where 3 of them take a shower on stage during it.
The evil Applegate is played by the multitalented Jim Walton. His first appears in a cloud of smoke when Joe says he would sell his soul to let the Red Sox win the World Series. Jim's line delivery as this despicable and malevolent character is expertly done as is his Boston accent when he appears to dissuade Meg from renting a room to Joe Hardy. (He sounds just like Ted Kennedy.) Jim gets to strut his stuff in an Al Jolson style number with a top hat and cane called "The Good Old Days" as he remembers his past misdeeds. He reveals that Babe Ruth never cursed the Red Sox but he did because he loves the Yankees. In the final scene when he tries to collect Joe's soul, he tells him that the Red Sox won't win for many years because of Bill Buckley and Bucky Dent, finally saying it won't be until the next century. At that moment the 2004 Red Sox pennants drops down to thunderous applause. His seductive sidekick, Lola is played marvelously by Shannon Lewis. She is a voluptuous red head who sings and dances up a storm throughout the show. Her scene stealing first number, "A Little Brains, A Little Talent" describes how she wrecked many homes in the past. The second number is the well known "Whatever Lola Wants" which includes a vampy tango while she strips pieces of cloth off her outfit. She does this with a Spanish accent while trying to seduce Joe. Shannon handles the transition from trying to ruin Joe Hardy to being sympathetic to him with ease. Her sexpot portrayal is wonderful and she stops the show with its funniest line, she was the ugliest woman in Providence, RI.
George Merrick is dynamite as Joe Hardy. His magnificent baritone voice knocks the socks off the audience. His gorgeous rendition of his opening number, "Goodbye, Old Girl" as well as his duet "A Man Doesn't Know" and the trio "Near to You" brings tears to the audience's eyes. George handles the good guy role beautifully, showing his acting strength by proving he is a man of his word. His comic moments include his facial expressions and reactions to Lola's attempted seduction of him as well as the comic "Lost Souls" duet where he get to dance. Kay Walbye who looks like Joan Bennett, plays Meg Boyd, Joe's long suffering wife who must endure "Six Months Out of Every Year" is taken up by baseball season. She brings the warmth and pathos to this show with her portrayal, showing there is no place like home as well as home is where the heart is. Her ballads with George and Richard are lovely and the final moment as she and Richard sing the reprise of "A Woman Doesn't Know" what she missed until she loses it, is very touching and moving and saves Joe from the clutches of Applegate by proving love and goodness defeat evil. The third member of this trio is Richard Pruitt as Joe Boyd. He is the Red Sox fanatic who makes the deal to sell his soul but makes sure he put an escape clause into it. He tugs at your heartstrings in the "Old Girl" number where he leaves Meg to become the young ball player and in the "Near to You" trio. Richard's Joe realizes that the love of his wife is more important than even baseball, giving the show it's poignant punch to win over the audience.
The two comic friends of Meg, Sister and Doris are played by Becky Barta and Mary Callanan. They are baseball fanatics who love the Red Sox. Their Boston accents are wonderful and their antics when they first meet Joe Hardy are hilarious. Christy Faber plays the nosey reporter, Gloria Thorpe who wants to know everything about Joe Hardy and suspects him of being Shifty McCoy. Her rendition of "Shoeless Joe" with the ballplayers is a standout number especially when she and the team start swinging their bats around as they kick up their heels while dancing. Steve Luker plays the crusty coach, Van Buren. The coach tries to energize the team with "Heart" to turn them into topnotch ball club. Steve belts out the song to the 7 team members and they join in to make it a rousing chorus number. The seven ball players are excellent singers and dancers who will leave you breathless with their talent. Leo Nouhan plays the dumbest ball player, Rocky who leads them in the hilarious "The Game" song. Another evil sexpot in the show is Amanda Poulson who gets to wheel Applegate around the stage in his vaudeville type number. So for a damn good show be sure to take a nostalgic trip back to Boston in 1957 and catch "Damn Yankees" at North Shore Music Theatre.