Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Damn Yankees - Review

Landor Theatre, London


Words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallopp
Directed by Robert McWhir

Poppy Tierney
There is genius at work in Clapham North as the Landor Theatre’s creative powerhouse of Robert McWhir alongside choreographer Robbie O’Reilly, again combine to make theatrical magic from a once charming tale of Faustian compromise, set in 1950’s Washington DC.

In a time when the New York Yankees dominated US baseball, Damn Yankees explores the frivalous scenario of Joe Boyd, a middle-aged overweight fan of rivals, the Washington Senators, striking a pact with the Devil to be transformed into a youthful athlete, get signed by the Senators and lead his team to victory over the (damn) Yankees. This slight story, often ridiculous, fails to pass muster in the modern era however, but as can be so often the case, the devil really is in the delicious detail of this show.

Satanically stealing every scene is Jonathan D Ellis' devilish Mr Appleyard, For a fringe production, Ellis' immaculately tailored shiny suit is worth the ticket price alone. His presence, voice and charisma are just a delight, whilst in his solo, Those Were The Good Old Days he single-handedly re-defines the eleven o'clock number. Partnering Appleyard is his infernal accomplice Lola played by Poppy Tierney, herself only recently seen on this side of the Styx in Newbury’s The Witches of Eastwick. Tierney, whose lipstick and outfits are as red as her name, looks as good as she acts, as good as she sings. Appealing to every red-blooded male in the house, she drapes herself around Boyd, desperately trying to lead him into temptation as her big solo, a tango-themed Whatever Lola Wants is not far short of meriting the great Charles Spencer's description of "pure theatrical Viagra".

For those whose preference is to gaze upon the well formed male physique, there is talented eye-candy in abundance. The act one reprise of Heart, set in the Senators’ locker room and sung by the team clad scantily only in towels, is delivered with such polished provocative gusto that one wonders if it had been rehearsed in a Chariots sauna.

The company work is a delight throughout. Nova Skipp is tenderly and plausibly menopausal as Joe's deserted wife Meg, whilst veteran newcomer Gary Bland gives a solid performance as Joe, coming to realise he ultimately loves his devoted wife more than his beloved baseball team. Amongst the newly graduated cast members Alex Lodge as the transformed "younger" Joe makes the best of a sugary-sweet role, whilst Elizabeth Futter puts in a fine turn as a journalist who suspects that there is more to young Joe than meets the eye.

But away from the stage and aside from Ellis and Tierney, the real stars of this strangely enchanting piece are McWhir and O‘Reilly. With more than a nod to Fosse and confidently underpinned by Michael Webborn’s three piece band this production's dance work, already Offie nominated, is a breathtaking delight. The plot of Damn Yankees may be unremarkable, but these performances are unmissable.

Runs until 8th November 2014

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