Utah Musical Theatre's third production for its 1998 summer season is a solid hit . . . right out of the ballpark.
On opening night, Ogden's own baseball team was playing just a couple of blocks west of Peery's Egyptian Theater in Raptors' Stadium. Ogden beat Great Falls, 7-3, obviously faring better than the downtrodden Washington Senators in this tune-filled, action-packed Broadway musical.Based on Douglas Wallop's novel, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," the musical puts a Faustian spin on America's favorite pastime.
Guest director Roger Bean, well known to Utah theatergoers through his previous work at both UMT and the Utah Shakespearean Festival, has a well-rehearsed team that covers all the bases - on stage and behind the scenes.
The leading players include Gary Neilson as Joe Boyd, a middle-aged, overzealous baseball fan who cuts a deal with the devil (in this case, Applegate, played with appropriately devilish charisma by guest Equity artist Ty Hreben) and is transformed - POOF! - into amazing baseball whiz Joe Hardy, played by Tony Purvis, a young Florida actor with a terrific voice.
And, of course, there's Applegate's seductive accomplice, Lola, played with calculated steaminess by Alisa Harris, who heats up the premises with "Whatever Lola Wants" and "A Little Brains, A Little Talent."
Another standout is Maurie Allen Tarbox of Farmington as Old Joe's neglected wife, Meg. Her exceptional voice was showcased in "Six Months Out of Every Year," which very neatly segued from a solo into a stage-filling ensemble number, with a half-dozen or so housewives lamenting their husbands' obsession with baseball; and "Near to You," a poignant trio with Neilson and Purvis.
Kevin C. Ireland was well cast as Coach Van Buren, with Loria Badali as newspaper reporter Gloria Thorpe, who suspects something's amiss when she looks into Joe Hardy's mysterious background.
The show's show-stopping musical numbers also included the Washington Senators' heartfelt "(You Gotta Have) Heart," the teammates' efforts to focus on "The Game," Applegate recounting his dubious blessings in "Those Were the Good Old Days," the poignant "A Man Doesn't Know," Applegate and Lola's duet, "Two Lost Souls," and the vibrant ensemble number, "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo."
Hreben has a field day as Applegate, busily rounding up possible clients from his apartment/office, deep down in the basement of the U.S. Senate office building. When Old Joe demands an escape clause, guaranteeing that he can return to his wife, Applegate sneers, "Two things that give me nothing but trouble - wives and Mormons!"
Jayne Luke's energetic choreography, Jerry S. Hooker's fine scenery, Jared Leese's "retro" '50s costumes and Jim Craig's lighting (except for one brief glitch - when the house lights came on in midscene), were all first-rate.
Also, in a show that contains dozens of intricate special effects, John Bizzell's technical designs added their own magical touches - from characters appearing in flashes of light and puffs of billowing smoke, to boiling water on demand . . . merely from Applegate sticking his fingers into the pot.
Kudos, too, to the unnamed sound director. The stereophonic effects of baseballs being hit on one side of the stage and caught on the other were a neat touch.
David Feller's 22-piece pit orchestra, conducted on opening night by music director Merrilee Webb, is first-rate, too. (The sound problems that plagued "Joseph" two weeks ago seem to have been remedied.)
In Roger Bean's skillful hands, "Damn Yankees" is more than just an entertaining musical. He delivers characters that audiences can connect with and care about.
The Washington Senators may have a lackluster team, but Utah Musical Theatre certainly doesn't. Now, if the Egyptian Theater would just allow patrons to munch on peanuts and popcorn and Cracker Jacks . . .
IN REPERTORY: Sharing the Egyptian Theater's main stage with "Damn Yankees" is "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which will play Aug. 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. Also, in the adjacent amphitheater, is "Olympus on My Mind," playing Mondays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through Aug. 15.