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Did you see "Damn Yankees" at the Naples Philharmonic? What did you think? Leave a comment below or e-mail your thoughts on "Damn Yankees" to email@example.com. Your review might wind up in print or on naplesnews.com.
NAPLES — "Damn Yankees" slid into the Naples Philharmonic for a one-night stand Thursday. Sultry Lola got a sold-out house, even if she didn't get her man. The audience wasn't so lucky. While the show had its moments, it was plagued by abysmal acoustics, leaden pacing and proved excruciating to watch.
"Damn Yankees" marries the Faust legend and baseball - if you can believe it. The devil offers a Washington Senators fan the chance to trade his soul for the opportunity to help his perennial loser of a team win the pennant.
It's based on the novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," with book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The show ran for 1,019 performances on Broadway from mid-1955 through 1957. Adler and Ross also collaborated with Abbott on popular musical "The Pajama Game."
The Philharmonic gets points for scheduling one or two-night stops of smaller tours - especially a classic like "Damn Yankees." The show last had a major Broadway revival in 1994; it demands a cast that puts it beyond the reach of all but the largest community or regional theatres, although it is popular on the high school circuit.
Neapolitan audiences, however, deserve far better than the ramshackle production that played Thursday. Almost nothing about the show worked. Even the Philharmonic crowds - who usually applaud the least show of competence - sat in silence for much of the night.
The tiny, tinny seven-piece orchestra - squeezed for economic reasons - fails to make a dent in the Philharmonic's vast cavern. The should-be-lush overture sounds like a scratchy record playing in the hall and the music just gets louder instead of cradling performers. Golden Age musicals from the 1950s would have typically had orchestras three times the size.
Sound issues left chunks of the dialogue unintelligible and turned the lyrics to mush. It's not that the cast can't sing - it's that you can't understand them.
Bob Fosse snagged a 1956 Tony Award for the original choreography. The bland and uninspired movement on display Thursday comes nowhere close. It often ascribes to mimic baseball postures; the too-obvious effort feels flat and anything but dynamic. Only one piece of the "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo." number - where cast members tap-dance with baseball bats - leaps off the stage.
Even standout routine "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets," which won Gwen Verdon her second Tony Award, comes across like a third-rate striptease. It features the slinky, irresistible devil's assistant trying to seduce poor ballplayer Joe. The vampish number should radiate sex; it has all the excitement of watching paint dry.
Stage curtains come in from the sides and top to frame the set. This is likely because the show often plays smaller venues where full-size sets would be impossible. While I understand the adaptation, it leaves the show looking visibly small on the Philharmonic's large stage - like a child playing "grown-up" in mommy's heels, gown and lipstick.
Various canvas drops create a baseball stadium, living room and more. Representations of huge baseballs frame the stage. It looks flimsy, but it's a clever scheme to cut expenses farther and help the show get into and out of venues fast - canvas folds faster and packs smaller than huge set pieces.
The show moves at a snail's pace. Scenes feel like they start simply because the lights go up, with desultory transitions into dance numbers and the action them limping begrudgingly into something else. That the show succeeds at all in offering even minimal entertainment value points to the strength of the underlying material.
Credit also goes to a game cast that has given five performances in three states since Friday. By the time you read this, the cast will be back on their bus, headed to Fort Pierce. Then, they're at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in Orange Park on Saturday, in Mississippi within the week and playing Shreveport, La. by next Friday.
Through all that, some scenes work.
Matthew J. Taylor brings a wholesome freshness to his Joe Hardy, the transformed ballplayer. Taylor and Laura Cable (Meg) share good chemistry and make the most of their scenes together, particularly "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You."
Chris Winslow delivers a measure of snide, snarky charm as the devilish Mr. Applegate. His big solo "Those Were the Good Old Days" gets lost on the stage, but he belts it nonetheless.
The choreography completely fails Sara Brophy's Lola during her titular solo, but the actress brings bouncy charm to "A Little Brains, A Little Talent."
Little about "Damn Yankees" offered reasons to get excited Thursday. Shoving the mediocre, hit-and-run tour on stage for one night - whether it sells out or not - does no credit to the Philharmonic. Neapolitan audiences deserve better.
Full Disclosure: Naples Daily News publisher Dave Neill is a member of the board of directors of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts.
What would you sell your soul for? Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.