Opening Nights: Damn Yankees

The 5th is back in top form with this period piece.

Beethoven had Wellington's Victory, the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour, and the 5th Avenue Theatre, in February, an overthought, intermittently vulgar Oklahoma!, showing that even the great are fallible. But next came Fidelio, "Hey Jude," and, opening last week, an affectionately energetic Damn Yankees, reassuring fans that the earlier missteps were flukes.

Another of the Golden Age Broadway shows that are the foundation of the 5th's mission statement, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' 1955 musical tells of the hapless, inept, cellar-dwelling Portland Timbers—excuse me, Washington Senators—and their Faustian quest to beat their titular archrivals: Middle-aged fan Joe Boyd (Hugh Hastings) sells his soul to be transformed into Joe Hardy, a home-run king half his age. Though the 5th's co-production with New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse lavishly oils the show (directed by Mark S. Hoebee), it still creaks. Most obtrusively: The two Joes, weirdly, sing almost nothing but sap in a quasi-operetta style (passé for decades even back then), and Adler and Ross reused the plot-halting contrivance of a variety-show-within-the-show, which makes even less sense here than it does in their earlier hit The Pajama Game. (At least that show can boast "Steam Heat.")

Hans Altwies plays the devil, aka Mr. Applegate, with voracious relish, if slightly strenuously. Patti Cohenour, a Seattle stage vet who can do no wrong, brings a great deal of warmth and a perfectly calibrated drop of pathos to Mrs. Boyd, who has no idea where her husband's gone; while Nancy Anderson, as cynical (the adjective is probably superfluous) muckraker Gloria Thorpe, winningly asserts her place in the Rosalind Russell/Joan Blondell line of shrewd, snappy dames. Strapping, cowlicked Christopher Charles Wood, as young Joe, combusts terrifically with Chryssie Whitehead, as Applegate's agent Lola—she who gets whatever she wants—sent to distract him. With a Vargas-girl body that seems capable of moving in six directions at once, her would-be locker-room seduction is both steamy and hilarious, but the pair really lift off in their final duet, "Two Lost Souls," performed with an ease and style that epitomizes the 5th's smart, fresh way with these classic period pieces.

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