There's been no scarcity of Southland revivals of the 1955 musical Damn Yankees since Jack O'Brien's delightful 1994 Old Globe production, which subsequently thrived in Broadway and tour editions. There's still plenty of fun to be gleaned from this civic light opera staple, a cozy relic from an era when musical theatre was more about fun than angst, thriving on hummable songs (by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross) as opposed to arch recitative. The community-based Golden Performing Arts Center's rendition lacks technical polish, but it wins major points for some winning performances and its refreshing mix of nostalgic conventions and fresh concepts.
Director/choreographer Gerry McIntyre (known for his performances in Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood) helms an energetic ensemble in relating this familiar Faustian spoof (book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallopp) about a man who sells his soul to the devil to become a baseball star. Among the rich resources at McIntyre's disposal are the performances of charismatic Patrick Tiller as leading man Joe Hardy, golden-voiced Weston Nathanson as the elder incarnation of Joe, and versatile Ann Peck (fresh from her triumph as Reno Sweeney in Downey CLO's Anything Goes) as Joe's devoted wife, Meg. Faring less well, despite admirable efforts, are Adam Miller as the Mephistophelean character Applegate, Jaclyn Miller as the ball-busting 200-year-old enchantress Lola, and Nancy Renee as the aggressive sports journalist Gloria.
Jaclyn Miller is a promising young talent, but—as with Renee's take on the locker-room snoop—she doesn't capture an audacious enough edge for her character. Adam Miller, cast younger than usual for Applegate, boasts a strong stage presence and a fairly good sense of comedy, but his portrayal needs more variety. His "Good Old Days" soft-shoe number includes a built-in reprise, though the audience response didn't warrant the encore on the night reviewed. The Applegate and Lola characters are the last ones out at curtain call, but Tiller's charming portrayal easily establishes him as the show's star. His singing is adequate rather than stellar, but he makes up for it with a winning combination of good humor and chutzpah. Carol Woodbury proves a first-rate comedienne as Meg's take-charge sister.
To his credit, McIntyre strives for original touches in choreography and staging rather than slavish recreations of the 1955 Broadway original or the 1994 revival. But the committee-designed-and-built set pieces are less appealing than one might hope for, and scene changes look awkward. The costumes credited to L. T. Designs are satisfactory. Musical director David Shukiar leads the 10-piece orchestra with aplomb. Gilbert Stones' magic effects are impressive. Though imperfect, this production provides more fun than the large-scale, by-the-numbers CLO versions I've seen in recent seasons. The ambitious and talented young GPAC company deserves support.
"Damn Yankees," presented by Golden Performing Arts Center at the Madrid Theatre, 21622 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Mar. 3-25. $18-28. (818) 347-9938.