Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Molly Beth Brenner, Fri., March 14, 2003
Damn Yankees: Miles and Miles of Heart
Austin Playhouse, through April 6
Running Time: 2 hrs
My Aunt Vida is an amazing cook. She doesn't cook frou-frou, trendy dishes; she makes traditional American food, throwing in a surprise ingredient now and then. It's delicious, and my whole family looks forward to her cooking. Strangely, though, she seems to have a blind spot when it comes to dessert. At the end of every fabulous meal, she always serves the same thing: a white cake from a mix, dry as cardboard, with canned frosting. With Aunt Vida, the part of the meal that you'd expect to be sweetest is always a little bit of a letdown.
I thought of Aunt Vida while watching Damn Yankees at Austin Playhouse this weekend. She'd love this show -- and who wouldn't? Damn Yankees is about as feel-good and apple-pie American as you can get, with a clever premise (a Senators fan sells his soul to the devil to help his team beat the Yankees) and catchy, playful songs. Austin Playhouse's production of the show reminded me of Aunt Vida, too. Like her white cakes, the sweetest part of Damn Yankees -- the ballads -- leaves something to be desired. But like her dinners, the overall production is a true-blue, traditional treat.
The aspect of Austin Playhouse's Damn Yankees that I most enjoyed was the group numbers. Songs like "Six Months Out of Every Year" and "Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, MO" were brimming with the energy and verve of a peppy, sparkling chorus. Even more fun to watch, though, were the numbers performed by the ballplayers (Kirk German, Chris Blessit, A.J. Lewis, Blake Simmon, and the rich-voiced Pete Cogswell as Van Buren). Their tight harmonies and spunky wit brought classic tunes like "Heart" and "The Game" to life. Although many individual performances were also strong, the undeniable standout was Jennifer Blakeney Young's Lola, the white-hot vixen on the devil's payroll who tries to slink her way into Joe Hardy's affections. Young's Broadway pipes, superior dance ability, and gorgeous physique failed to steal Joe's heart, but certainly made her audience sit up and take notice.
These crackerjack performances, along with Austin legend Acia Gray's superb, intensely creative choreography (a reason to see the show in itself), satisfied my craving for a delicious American treat in a way that only a musical can. The disappointment of the evening came at the tenderest moments -- the duets featuring Meg (Lauri Raymond) and Joe Hardy (Drew Starlin). Raymond and Starlin, though fine actors, are not outstanding singers, and the lovely numbers they're called upon to perform ("A Man Doesn't Know," "Near to You") require substantial vocal prowess. Overall, though, Austin Playhouse has assembled a fine evening of theatre with Damn Yankees. Sometimes a traditional home-cooked musical, well done, is just what the doctor ordered.