views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Damn Yankees
The Landor Theatre
7th October 2014


Poppy Tierney and Alex Lodge as Lola and Joe

Photography © Roy Tan

I'll be honest, I don't know much about baseball, nor do I have any interest in becoming an expert. Sport really just isn't my bag. However, even though the locker room is the setting for much of Damn Yankees, don't let that put you off if like me, you're not a fan of the game; the devil is not in the detail, he's very much in the foreground. This is a musical about a Faustian pact where - as you'd expect - one man sells his soul for what he thinks he wants, but it turns out, what he really wants he had all along.

Joe (Gary Bland) is a middle-aged married man who spends "six months out of every year" in front of the tv, ignoring his rather sweet and forgiving wife, Meg (Nova Skipp). For some time now, Joe has been frustrated at the fortunes of his chosen team, and when he casually offers to sell his soul for "a long ball hitter" the mysterious Mr Applegate (Jonathan D Ellis) overhears, appears and makes it so. With just one handshake, average Joe Boyd is transformed into a younger, more athletic rising star: Joe Hardy (Alex Lodge).

This other Joe has some extraordinary talent and could help The Senators beat the Yankees, but the big question is whether he'll stick around long enough. Joe Boyd is an estate agent, and he's negotiated a break clause into his contract with the devil. Of course, the date for this falls after the last game of the season: it's win the game or go home to the girl. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

The show is unapologetically camp, with Mr Applegate the clear star. Some of the earlier numbers do go on a touch too long, but in Those Were The Good Old Days, Ellis meanders his way through his solo and the pacing is spot on. "Now that was worth the price of the ticket!" he declares triumphantly, and he's not wrong. Ellis has a huge amount of confidence and swagger, frequently pausing after some incredibly daft lines, aware that if he just waits a few moments, the gap will be filled with raucous laughter.

The ensemble of Damn Yankees

Photography © Roy Tan

Joe's relationship with Meg is a little difficult to relate to - his rejection of Mr Applegate's pet seductress Lola (Poppy Tierney) does show his underlying devotion, but equally, it takes him a split second to run off and live his dream. And that's a dream without his wife in it. Meg's quiet belief that her husband will come back even though he's disappeared without any real explanation is less endearing than it is sad. She's a thoroughly kind woman and you just want to give her a hug and tell she deserves better. But Meg and Joe's reunion in the reprise of A Man Doesn't Know is touching, and we happily gloss over the rest. With musicals, sometimes you do have to make an effort to not think too hard. George Abbott and Douglass Wallop's book is all about the bigger picture.

The Landor Theatre is an intimate space, and fitting a company of 20 into it really takes some doing. The sight of nine men dancing in teeny tiny towels is a guilty pleasure, with the choreography from Robbie O'Reilly carefully planned and full of surprises. ("You gotta have heart" but apparently clothes are optional. Love it.)

With a few notable exceptions, the words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross aren't particularly memorable. The disposable nature reminds me of their earlier collaboration on The Pajama Game - like that musical, this one is fun and can be executed well, but there are more enduring shows out there with catchier songs and sharper lyrics. Musical director Michael Webborn has a lot of fun with the score, which is the right approach to take - this is a good-natured and silly musical, and you have to accept it for what it is to get the most out of it.

At times Damn Yankees degenerates into some quite cartoonish antics, with Lola in particular a character who is limited by the writing. Whatever Lola Wants is a fun number (there's that word again) but we never see much of the girl who gave everything to Mr Applegate in exchange for her - let's face it, stunning - looks. We get very little character development from anyone, but the musical holds our attention. (And not just because of those teeny, tiny towels.)

The book may have a lot in common with Emmentaler - cheesy, full of holes - but this adaptation by Robert McWhir is truly delicious. It'll be a cold day in hell if a grinning Ellis can't convince you of this with just one glance.

Damn Yankees ran from 1st October to 8th November 2014 at the Landor Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Clapham North (Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts