By Myra Chanin . . . 

The Greeks had a word for stories like these: myths—about contracts between heavenly, or in this instance, hellish, beings and (sigh) baseborn humans, which are never in the best interests of man. Take the story of Faust, the German philosopher who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and powers with a smidgen of sex sneaking into a stipulation in the erotic version, still nothing more intense than what’s tendered on tinder. 

In Damn Yankees (playing at the Wick in Boca through March 26) George Abbot integrated character-based jokes and changed the setting of the Faust story. Bob Fosse added original acrobatic choreography and Ricard Adler and Jerry Ross created songs still warbled today that topped Your Hit Parade for months, ran on Broadway for 1019 performances and earned seven Tonys—including three now defunct ones for conductor, musical director and best stage technician!

Our soul seller is Joe Byrd (Bryan Dobson), a middle-aged, real-estate salesman and devoted husband of Old Girl Meg (Aaron Bower) except between November and April when he’s totally immersed in the trials of the Washington Senators  . . . not the eternally re-elected members of Congress, but the eternally bested baseball club which, during the 1950s didn’t come close to winning a pennant from the @#$%^&*! New York Yankees in Zeus only knows how many years. 

Jeff Keller and Lauren Weinberg

The curtain opens in Griffith Park, where husbands shout advice to the coaches while their wives gripe plaintively about their annual sad situation during “Six Months Out of Every Year,” when their mates eat, drink and dream baseball. In the dugout, the players—every one of them a marvelous and unique dancer/performer—and their manager, Van Buren (Paul Louis), accept a five-word plan to reverse their loss-win statistics, “You Gotta Have Heart.” Heart alone won’t do it. This lot need prancing feet and superior, acrobatic dancers, who make the robust, original, routines—conceived by choreographer Bob Fosse in his prime—look more impressive than they ever did before. The whole team was sensational, but one actor/athlete, Ryan Corridoni, #24, really caught my eye. He was like an Al Pacino who’d spent his Actor’s Studio lunch breaks taking leaping lessons from Baryshnikov. His total immersion in what was happening around him was evident in his constantly changing facial expressions and every movement made by his fingers, neck, torso and legs.

When Joe Boyd is home alone in pops trouble—Mephistopheles, hereinafter Mr. Applegate (Wayne LeGette), a devilishly entertaining apparition, visible only to Joey. Mr. Applegate, in glitzy red sequins and shiny black satin, offers to turn Joe Boyd into the home run hitter he might have become in his younger days, but taller, stronger, and packed with the kind of muscles that can swat them fast balls out of Griffith Park. However, the years Joe spent selling real estate allowed Joe to avoid being anybody’s fool. Joe cleverly negotiates an exit clause in their contract with an escape from the devil’s permanent clutches, which Joe fully intends to use. 

Devil Man Wayne LeGette

The temptation is too great to refuse, but Joe fully expects to return. He leaves a note for Meg and steps off stage, letting his newer half, Joe Hardy (Jeff Keller) take over. OMG! He’s tall, handsome and powerful. A triple threat. Make that a quintuple threat. During his tryout he hits homer after homer and boy, oh, boy that boy sings like a Broadway star-in-waiting. Also, his batting average inspired the rest of the Senators which moves the team up in the rankings. 

Mr. Applegate ups the ante and calls his colleague Lola (Lauren Weinberg) in to trap Joe in her carnal web. Whatever Lola wants, she doesn’t get, because unbeknownst to her and devil man. Joe misses Meg, his old girl, a lot; enough that during his free time he wanders around his old neighborhood, not only speaking with Meg as Joe Hardy, but becoming a boarder in the house he shared with her. 

Lolita gets fired and leads some devils in a Fosse stylized dance—hat extensions, hip rolls, shoulder isolation, twisting one part of the body against another—much easier to write about them to execute. To prevent Joe from applying the exit clause in their contract, Mr. A. releases false information about him being an escaped criminal and a con artist. Joe is arrested. The date of Joe’s trial? The last day Joe can legally get out of his devilish deal. 

Husbands and Wives at Griffith Park

What does he do? Help the Senators beat the Yankees or walk out in time to go back to his own true love? That is the question for this night.  I’ll never tell. You’ll have to see Damn Yankees to find out. All I’ll say is his solution is very clever and pleases everyone in the audience.  

A couple of things I noticed were how tender and touching the interaction between the remade Jeff Keller and Aaron Bower were. They both play good, decent people, even though Meg is willing to lie under oath for her boarder to keep him out of jail and in uniform. Lauren Weinberg’s Lola is a good singer and a very good actress, especially when she’s giving Mr. Applegate a report on her success for a previous case for which he hired her; however, the Whatever Lola Wants costumes and dance seemed a bit dated. Still, if you’ll forgive me for sounding like a great-grandmother, it’s hard to imagine what would be considered sexy nowadays, the way these kids carry on! 

Jeffrey B. Moss’s direction was excellent. The hour-and-a-half first act zoomed by in what seemed like minutes. Josieu T. Jean’s projections look like they’d actually been erected and painted. Commendations to Choreographer Jerel Brown who kept all the dancers on their toes. I was happy to see Dance Captain Melanie Farber, one of my favorites, rewarded with a speaking role. My personal thanks to Caleb Funk, the dancing ball player with the most lines, who aided me immeasurably in unearthing the true identity of the player in the #42 uniform. And, as always, kudos to Marilynn Wick for her great taste in her selections. And the subscription buyers seem to be back. The theater was almost completely filled. 

Damn Yankees will be performed until March 26 at The Wick in Boca Raton, Florida. For more information and tickets:

Photos: Amy Pasquantonio