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Monday, June 30, 2008

Dealing with the Devil

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  Though the show remains highly popular, it’s been more than a decade since the last major revival of Ross, Adler, Abbott and Wallop’s Damn Yankees. And, in an interesting twist, the mid-’90s Broadway revival may have cost the Sunset Playhouse’s Mark Salentine a spot in the Blue Man Group.

  At the time, Salentine had delivered a promising audition with the group in Chicago and had been sent to New York to go through a final week of auditions before “turning blue.” With some time to kill during the week in New York, Salentine went to see a performance of Damn Yankees featuring Jerry Lewis in the role of Mr. Applegate, the devil’s slick alter ego. After seeing the show, Salentine was called in for a late audition. Under the influence of Lewis’ slapstick performance as the devil in Damn Yankees, Salentine says he was unable to present the distinct Blue Man style at the audition. He wasn’t hired.

  “I went home rejected,” Salentine says, “but when I wrote to the Marquis Theatre where Yankees was being performed, Mr. Lewis sent an autographed photo for me to cry on.”

  Fast-forward to the present and Salentine is now the artistic director of the Sunset Playhouse, where he’s decided to end the current season by paying homage to the musical that had a hand in guiding him to Elm Grove.

  The Sunset Playhouse typically ends its season with a musical, and Damn Yankees fits the bill. The musical tells the story of a man willing to sell his soul to the devil for a chance to help his favorite baseball team win the pennant race against the New York Yankees.

  Accomplished actor/director Bryce Lord, who appeared in last year’s Sunset production of Footloose and previously directed Sylvia for Sunset,is slated to direct. Lord brings an impressive history in local theater that includes work with nearly every major commercial theater group.

  Some Sunset subscribers expressed concern that Salentine wouldn’t be the one to direct the musical this year, which Salentine says is “flattering in one way, but very stressful in other ways,” adding, “Bryce is a great choice to prove that the success of our musicals isn’t based solely on my doing the direction.”

  The cast of 24 includes Bill Jackson in the role of Applegate. Jackson once performed in a Chicago production of the musical with two of the original leads (Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon). He is part of a mix of talent that includes a wide variety of ages and experience.

  “That creates a wonderful energy offstage around Sunset and will translate to a great spark onstage as well,” Salentine says.

  The Sunset Playhouse’s production of Damn Yankees opens July 11and closes Aug. 3.

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