I was lucky enough to be invited to opening night for Damn Yankees at the 5th Avenue Theatre in downtown Seattle. Opening night of a production at a major theater is a different kind of event. There’s a bigger energy about it. People are fancier, the foyer is dressed up with balloons, it’s just more exciting.
While the show is about baseball, there were very few kids milling around and frankly, it’s not really appropriate for a younger set. (More on that later.) My bottom line? Invest in a sitter and have a great date night!
A full orchestra pit boomed the overture to a packed house, then the curtains swept back and we were transported to the 1950s and a man whose love for and disappointment in the Washington Senators (who continuously lose to those damn Yankees) drives him to sell his soul to the devil for a chance to be a baseball hero. The story puts “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” on the path to greatness where he discovers that maybe trading away his old life and wife for fame was a mistake.
Joe Hardy (beautifully played by Christopher Charles Wood) had a huge bold voice and felt believably like a man torn between his dedication to his team and his devotion to his wife. Applegate (Hans Altweis) had to be the most likeable devil of the 50s. Altweis was spot on with his sometimes evil, sometimes comedic, always manipulative role as the devil. Applegate’s handpicked seductress, Lola, was my favorite of the night. She was charged with distracting Joe Hardy from being drawn back to his former life. Played by Chryssie Whitehead, she was an entrancing dancer and had a voice bewitchingly reminiscent of the 50s. Joe must have had a steel constitution to resist her – I couldn’t have!
Gloria (Nancy Anderson) also nailed her hard-boiled reporter role while maintaining the 50s femininity – the epitome of Girl Power. The rest of the cast was exciting and fun to watch. After all, who doesn’t love a locker room full of baseball players dancing while singing about playing with heart? Dance numbers were creative and whimsical. And finally, I have to give a quick shout-out to my good friend, Paul Silvi, whose well-known voice served as the consummate TV baseball announcer.
Damn Yankees was such a fun night out. As mentioned earlier, I’d leave the kids at home. The 5th Avenue’s website has a section of parental guidelines with appropriate warnings but it also calls the sexual references “very mild and consist of innuendo.” That’s understating it: While everyone remained fully clothed, the sexuality was more overt than the website would lead you to believe. Plus, the show is two-and-a-half hours long (including the 20-minute intermission). So play it safe and spend your money to take the kids to see Elf in December. Make Damn Yankees an outing for the grown-ups!
My date and I left with one lingering question: Why did Lola and Applegate get top billing with the show-ending applause? While I, personally, believe that Lola stole the show, and Applegate was a brilliant foil (who only had one solo number) the star is undoubtedly Joe Hardy. We were curious why Joe stood for his deafening applause then bowed as Lola and Applegate rose from the depths of hell to round out the cast. However minor, it was unusual -- and probably an itch that won’t get scratched. All-in-all, however, it was just the outstanding production you’d expect at the 5th Ave.
If you go . . .
Where: The 5th Avenue Theater, Seattle
When: Now through May 20, Tuesday-Sunday, including weekend matinees.
Tickets: $28-$98. Call 206-625-1900, or buy online at 5thavenue.org.