Wednesday, 15 October 2014

REVIEW: Damn Yankees at the Landor Theatre

This autumn, Clapham’s Landor Theatre presents the Broadway classic Damn Yankees to charming, if not completely convincing, effect in Robert McWhir’s intimate fringe revival.

A hit on Broadway in 1955, Damn Yankees has remained a perennial American musical theatre classic. One of just two Adler/Ross shows, recently revived The Pajama Game being the other - due to the premature death of Ross, Damn Yankees’ novel take on Baseball madness with a Faustian twist proves to be a charming and tuneful show with plenty of ‘heart’ as one lively, and raunchy, locker-room number suggests. 

Amongst the largely fresh-faced cast, Alex Lodge stands out as the young Joe Hardy the sensational baseball star counterpart to Gary Bland’s middle-aged baseball fanatic, who trades his soul for the chance to lead his favourite team to victory. Handsome and charismatic in equal measure, Lodge’s performance encompasses both a sensitive vulnerability with all the determination needed to lead a failing team to victory. Add to this his smooth, if slightly underpowered, voice and you have a winning leading man.  Jonathan D Ellis is scene stealing as the deliciously kitsch debonair devil – his 11’O Clock number ‘Those Where The Good Old Days’ brings the house down. Of the women a sincere Nova Skipp is touching as Joe’s abandoned wife Meg, there’s a firey featured role from Elizabeth Futter as nosey news-reporter Gloria and a sexy delivery of the show’s break out hit ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ from stage veteran Poppy Tierney. 

Robert McWhir’s production is an adequate one, but the overwhelming sense is that casting and strong material pulls this one through. Underwhelming dramatic scenes in-between numbers slow proceedings down hugely, leaving the overly long first act to plod along rather than zip to first base. Robbie O’Reilly, of note from previous Landor productions such as Follies and Curtains, tightly choreographs the enthusiastic cast to within an inch of their lives. She delivers with wonderfully witty numbers, pastiche moments and slickly executed routines, which defy the restrictive playing space. In addition, Michael Webborn’s three piece band play the truly catchy score with fine musicality and energy, though acoustics are occasionally an issue here – as with many fringe theatres.

Although a genuinely endearing and comical piece, Damn Yankees has not aged too well. Abbott and Wallop’s lengthy, creaky book feels uneven in structure and dwells too long on the sentimentality of a relationship we struggle to really care about in this production. Though this is somewhat to be expected, the libretto has lost more humour than it’s gained in vintage retrospect. Conversely, Adler and Ross’ witty lyrics and melodic musical numbers have retained their bold, tuneful exuberance – especially when delivered with the fine panache on display here.

Though perhaps not their finest revival in recent years, the Landor’s Damn Yankees is an enjoyable, nostalgic romp through baseball Americana and Broadway musical comedy. Pop along if you’re free, for ‘Those were the good old days’, right?

Rating: ★★

Review by George Thomas 

Damn Yankees runs at the Landor Theatre until the 8th November 2014

Cast includes: Alex Lodge, Poppy Tierney, Jonathan D Ellis, Gary Bland, Nova Skipp, Tony Stansfield, Elizabeth Futter, Leah Pinney, Kayleigh Thadani, Sophie May Whitfield, Emily Wigley, Samson Ajewole, Joel Burman, Douglas Fanning, Barnaby Hughes, Sam Lathwood, Kiel Payton, Ben Sell, Sam Stones and Christopher Tendai
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