You gotta have heart. All you really need is heart. Well, heart, a talented cast, dynamite dancing, and a few catchy tunes if you want to score like the folks at Pasadena Theatre Company. Their recent production of Damn Yankees, Directed by Chuck Dick, with Musical Direction by Robert White is, well, a hit.
The Humanities Recital Hall on the campus of Anne Arundel Community College is a nice venue for this production. It would be even nicer if the air conditioning was running, but that is where the event coordinators for AACC strike out, leaving the bases loaded with warm patrons.
Dick understands the space and takes full advantage of what it has to offer. For instance, the first row is just a little leg room from the stage. Rather than pull opening scene upstage, Dick moves it as far downstage as he possible can sans playing in the lap of the audience. This works very well as it not only gives you the feeling that you are sitting in the living room with the Boyd’s, but also creates the depth he needs to make it look like a complete house. As an added bonus, it lends itself well to “Six Months Out of Every Year”, giving the illusion that you are peering into living rooms across Chevy Chase. Throughout the show Dick uses what he has to its fullest. He clearly demonstrates an understanding of the material, the environment, his cast, and the relationship between the three, getting the max from each; something a less seasoned Director may not have been able to achieve.
Set Designer, Chuck Dick (I wonder if they are related) keeps things simple and functional. Abraham Lincoln said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”. This may be true but show me a Director that doesn’t want to design his own set, especially if someone else is building it for him. Dick proves again that less is more. There is no set to speak of. Instead he opts for props, a back drop when needed, and excellent blocking. In an era where production companies try to out build each other or see who can come up with the coolest special effects, Dick reminds us that it’s people that we come to see. He keeps his actors in character and allows the audience to use its imagination; and it works. Properties Mistress, Lindsay Wilk is the icing on the cake. Her attention to detail helped to spark the audience’s imagination and navigate the story.
The Lighting Design and Sound Design are the elephant in the room for this show, and yes, we are going to talk about them. Lighting Designer, Chuck Dick (I’m beginning to see a pattern here), falls short and is basically a one trick pony. On two separate occasions when Applegate makes an entrance, as long as he hits his mark, he is cast in a red light. That’s it. Period. The rest of time the lights were pars with no gel. White lights came up, went to black and that was it. Sound Tech Robert White was flawless with his sound effects and pushed the right button at the right time to give us canned music. I am not a fan of recorded music and with all of the talent in this area, putting together an orchestra is not hard. If a theatrical company is going to charge more than $15 to see a show, then the audience deserves live music be it a piano or orchestra.
Music Director Robert White should be commended for the work he put in with his cast. From the opening number to the curtain call, the voices were bright, crisp and tuneful. There are so many people that are amazing actors and wonderful singers that have are hard time combining the two. Every single person under Mr. White’s tutelage sang in character. Whatever accent they chose they stayed true to, and you don’t see that every day. The supporting cast elevated the group numbers. The leads delivered teary ballads like “A Man Doesn’t Know” and belted snappy numbers like “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo”. One thing that is usually over looked that White did not let slip through is the harmonies in “Heart”. Glenn Singer (Van Buren), Tyler White (Rocky), Ronnie Schronce (Smokey) and Frank Antonio (Sohovik) were diamonds on the diamond. If the O’s could play like these guys sing we would be in first place.
As great as the singing is in this show, if I had to give a “Best Of” award, it would have to go to Christy Stouffer for her Choreography. If these actors came into auditions thinking this was going to be a “park and bark” type show, Stouffer dispelled that myth quickly. As Dick did with his blocking, Stouffer follows suit with her choreography. Every space of stage gets used. I especially liked that she incorporates the furnishings and props in every dance number. I did notice that the younger dancers were always in the back row. I’m not sure if this was by design, but it was to the point where it was noticeable. For those of you who are familiar with Damn Yankees, watch “Who’s Got the Pain”, and tell me if you don’t see Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon dancing in front of you. The talent of this cast under Stouffer’s direction is simply amazing. Pay close attention to Tyler White folks, because I’m not sure how much longer he will be around. He has the talent to be part of a national touring production.
Rounding out the Production Staff are Costumiers Juliet Murphy and Christy Stouffer. There where points in the show where they wowed me and others where I wanted to bang my head on the seat in front of me. For example, the baseball uniforms were the correct cream and pin stripe ones from the 1950’s, but they either didn’t fit properly or were made as long sleeves. While jazz shoes would have worked great and given the appearance of the all black spikes worn during that time, there was a potpourri of modern styles and logos. The biggest distraction among the ball players though was that no one checked them before they came out on stage and it seemed that most of them did not know how to wear a belt. One person had it wrapped over and under itself, one was tied in a knot, and one was left drooping down a good six inches below his waist. The actors should thank the designers, though, for using a light, breathable material as opposed to the flannel worn at that time. The four fan girls were well thought out, designed properly, and worked great, except for the one girl who wore spandex as her white pants. All of Joe Hardy’s costumes were outstanding. Joe Boyd on the other hand was wearing suspenders with a belt. Not only that, it was a belt that almost wrapped half way around him. However, the most noticeable faux pas was putting Gloria Thorpe in pants. The costuming for Doris, Sister, Meg, Lola and Applegate, aside from his unbuttoned flame shirt (which was cute), was the best of the bunch and deserves recognition.
Christy Stouffer (Meg Boyd), Kathy McBee (Doris), and Cristina Shunk (Sister) look like they stepped out of the Saturday Evening Post. They were every bit in character, loving, humorous, and the epitome of some one’s mom or granny. McBee and Shunk catch your eye every time they take the stage and I just couldn’t get enough of them. Their timing was to a tee and they reminded me of Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance. I hope they work together in future productions. Stouffer has a soft, calming tone that could lull you to sleep, yet she can let it fly in “Six Months Out of Every Year.” She will bring a tear to your eye when she sings to Joe at the end of the show.
Mr. Applegate is portrayed by…. If you said Chuck Dick, you win! Mr. Dick’s performance is very Ray Walston-esque. He very much portrays the soft, human side of the character. Even though he is the villain of the show, Dick has the ability to make you feel sorry for him. His sharp, witty tongue and sarcastic tone will keep you laughing. Whether it is being unable to rely upon your help, or being conned by a real estate agent, Dick makes you feel his pain as if we have all been there. I particularly like how he played the character very condescending. That means he talked down to people. Kudos on a job well done.
What Lola wants, Lola gets! Evidently Tami Howe was not going to be satisfied until she was the complete package. A definite triple threat, this lady commands your attention. I have seen several productions of the show where the person playing Lola thought they could get by on dancing and looking sexy. I wish they could see the two-hour course Howe teaches on how to be an actor. While very attractive herself, Howe realizes that there is so much more to Lola and she brings that to the top. She comes in cocky and brash, but throughout the show you can see her heart melting as she falls for Joe. As much as you feel sorry for Joe, at the end of “Two Lost Souls” she has you believing that everything is going to be alright. Howe transitions flawlessly from villainess to awestruck fan girl without losing sight of who her character is. Watch how easily she switches from the Lola fresh back from Chicago, to the ridiculous Senorita Banana routine, to the Lola who realizes what she is up against. Her delivery of “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” is her shining moment as she gets a chance to show off her dance skills, beautiful voice, and acting ability. Having seen several productions of this show, I can say that Tami Howe is the best Lola I have seen on stage anywhere in Maryland.
Without getting into the whole Anti-mimesis philosophical position that holds the direct opposite of Aristotelian mimesis, let’s just agree that Oscar Wilde knew what he was talking about when he said, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. Talk about irony, where else can you go see a play about a guy who sells his soul for a chance to be someone much younger, and out walks Joe Rose as Joe Hardy? I’m sure that even Rose would agree that he is on the south side of his 22-year-old character, but everyone in the theatre would agree that he was born to play Joe Hardy. I will be the first to admit that when he stepped onto the stage I thought that Applegate needed to put a little more oomph behind that spell, or maybe Joe stepped out of the time machine before the timer went off. And by the time he finished “Goodbye Old Girl”, I was picking my jaw up off the floor. Rose’s deep, strong, baritone voice resonates the theatre. He posses the ability to glide across the stage and is the perfect compliment to Tami Howe’s Lola. His delivery is clear, articulate and to the point. Rose develops Joe hardy exactly as written, moving from the giddy fan happy to play ball, to challenging Applegate face to face. Hopefully we will get to see him in other productions.
When it come to the Orioles, Mr. Van Buren and the boys will tell you, “A great slugger we haven’t got. A great pitcher we haven’t got. A great ball club we haven’t got. What’ve we got?” You’ve got a chance to get down to Anne Arundel county and see Pasadena Theatre Company’s Damn Yankees. Get your tickets now, so you don’t get shut out.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Damn Yankees plays through July 22, 2018 at the Pasadena Theatre Company at Anne Arundel Community College in the Recital Hall of the Humanities Building— 101 College Parkway in Arnold, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door (please note credit cards ARE NOT accepted at the door) or in advance online.
As a side note from reviewer Mike Zellhofer: It concerns me when I see one or two names listed in a program repeatedly. Especially when they repeatedly cross the actor/tech line, filling several roles, both in the show and on the production side. This tells me that there are a few people are going all out to ensure that we as audience members enjoy the show. Whether you are reading this as an actor or a patron, I encourage you to get involved with community theatre. Maybe you have a talent you can share on stage or behind the scenes. Perhaps you don’t have the time, but you have the means to donate to the company. Even if you think you have nothing to offer, please speak with one of the company members and they can show you how you can help.