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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Devil and the Yankees

Theater Review

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  Sunset Playhouse rounds out its season with a fair amount of classy retro style in its production of the 1955 Broadway musical Damn Yankees. Robert Zimmerman plays baseball fanJoe Boyd—a man obsessed with seeing the Washington Senators beat the Yankees to win the pennant that he’s willing to risk losing his soul to the devil. William Jackson plays the devil here in a standout performance. A towering gentleman with a pencil-thin physique, Jackson cuts an almost surreal figure in the role of the impeccably dressed Satan. Jackson has impressive talent that’s been honed through many years onstage, giving the classic villain more than enough personality to drive the story’s central conflict.

  The devil gives Boyd a chance to personally take the Senators to victory by transforming him into a powerful young athlete named Joe Hardy. As one Joe becomes another, UW-Madison undergraduate David Finley takes over the male lead. Finley looks, acts and moves quite wholesomely through his performance as the star player who comes out of nowhere to lead the team on the field. Finley seems to be channeling energy directly from a mid-1950s sitcom for his performance here, which is flawless in many ways.

Joe has convinced the devil to put an escape clause in his contract that allows him to back out of it, return to his normal life with his wife and keep his soul if he does so by a given deadline. In order to make certain that he can collect on his investment, the devil enlists the help of demonic seductress Lola (Samantha Deibler) to take Joe’s thoughts away from his wife. The big song-and-dance number here is the classic Broadway pseudo-tango “Whatever Lola Wants.Though none of it is offensively bad, not all of the choreography in Sunset’s production is terribly complex or particularly well-executed. Deibler’s performance of “Whatever Lola Wants” is a notable exception. She brilliantly, fluidly negotiates some very impressive moves that are perfectly in synch with her singing.

  While not all of the production is as entertaining as “Whatever Lola Wants,” the musical end of this musical is executed quite well. Even when things don’t seem entirely graceful onstage, the vocals sound great. It’s not a perfect production, but director Bryce Lord has deftly assembled a show that more than compensates for its flaws.

Sunset Playhouse’s production of Damn Yankees closes Aug. 3.