'Damn Yankees' brings love, baseball and the devil to the Springer Opera House

rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 1, 2012 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: “Damn Yankees,” a musical about a middle-aged man who sells his soul to the devil to make his pathetic Washington Senators baseball contenders. The devil transforms the man into a 22-year-old superstar.

    When: 7:30 p.m. tonight-Saturday; 7:30 p.m. March 8-10 and March 15-17 and 2:30 p.m. March 11.

    Where: Springer Opera House, 103 10th St.

    Tickets: $15-$38

    Pre-show dinner: 6 p.m. tonight and Saturday and March 8-10, March 15-17. $16.

    Information: 706-327-3688

The comedy, with music by Richard Adler and lyrics by Jerry Ross, is based on the George Abbott and Douglass Wallop book "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant." It tells the story of long-suffering Washington Senators fan Joe Boyd who wants nothing more than to see his hated New York Yankees lose the pennant to his beloved Senators.

Set in the mid-1950s, the show starts off with a bang as the middle-aged Boyd makes a deal with the Devil. While watching a baseball game on television, he yells out in frustration, "I'd sell my soul for one good long-ball hitter!" Enter Mr. Applegate the Devil and the Faustian legend unfolds. Boyd cuts his deal and, unbeknownst to his wife, is transformed into the 22-year old baseball phenom Joe Hardy. The young man quietly leaves his wife, Meg, joins the Senators and leads them to the pennant game against the Yankees. In a moment of hesitation, however, Boyd negotiates an escape clause in case he has a change of heart. Applegate later introduces the sultry Lola to seduce the young Joe Hardy in an attempt to seal the deal for his soul.

Artistic Director Paul Pierce recalls the theater's 1994 production, the year of the major league baseball strike, and his new appreciation for the play.

"I see much more in this play now than I did before," Pierce says. "The thing that I am able to appreciate is the amazing theatrical convention that the writers created here."

As the young Joe Hardy becomes a baseball star, he begins to pine for his wife, Meg, and eventually rents a room in her house to be close to her. Meg doesn't realize this young man is her husband, but experiences a moment of recognition in a scene when the two dance. "I know that the way he holds me is familiar," says Springer veteran Debbie Anderson, who portrays Meg Boyd. "I know that his arms are familiar, but it's very confusing."

"It's the immediacy of the contrast of this young man and this middle-aged woman in love with each other that really works best in live theater," Pierce says. "Really it's a love story and the inherent goodness in people."

The young Joe feels the conflict as he tries to get close to the woman he's been married to for so many years. "It's almost like being rejected time and time again," says Nick Morrett, who plays Joe Hardy. "It's a lot of fun having to battle between holding on to the relationship with Meg and having this brand new body and this absolutely stunning woman in Lola."

"It's an enduring idea," Pierce added. "There is the devil and somebody's cutting a deal for power, for riches and for mortal pleasures."

Morrett, who is from Marietta, Ga., appeared on the Springer stage as Pedro in "Man of La Mancha" and as Mr. Mayor in "Seussical the Musical."

"Nick has a challenge that nobody else has," Pierce explains. "All of Joe Boyd's life experiences are inside this young man, so when Lola starts doing her seduction bit, for instance, there is the fact that he is married, the fact that he loves his wife. So sometimes in rehearsal I interrupt and say, ‘remember that you are Joe Boyd.' There is another dimension going on here, and suddenly Nick takes it on board and the scene will shift."

The tension in Hardy is clear when he returns to his house to rent a room from Meg and he sits in his old chair.

"I leave the room," says Anderson, "and he (young Joe) gets very comfortable. I come back and I scare him half to death because he knows that he can't be that comfortable."

As a director, Pierce emphasizes the visceral connections that he can evoke in his shows. "If we have athletes on stage, I want them to be super athletic. If we have beautiful girls on stage, I want them to be super beautiful. If someone is in love, I want them to be more in love than you would normally see," Pierce says. "So there is a kind of athleticism of the production. The passion, sexuality and goodness, I would say, are aspects of the play that I'm working to amplify."

Springer veteran Steve Valentini played the older Joe Boyd in the 1994 production, and portrays the character again.

"It's a whole new experience," Valentini says. "I'm the right age for it this time. It's being older and being able to make the emotional connection between Joe and Meg, and have it carry through the whole show. Any time you redo a show, it's a totally different show."

Marisa Rivera, who is from Ovieda, Fla., and currently lives in New York, came to audition for the part of Lola while in Atlanta visiting a friend. "The sultriness of the character and the sexuality is very fun to play with," Rivera says. "It's a role I can really give fire to. It's kind of me at the core minus the evil part."

The seductive locker room scene featuring Lola performing "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets" is perhaps the signature song from "Damn Yankees."

Dancer Shane Hall of Columbus, choreographs the show, plays a Senators teammate and has a featured number with Rivera.

"There are so many diverse moments in this show," Hall says. "There is such an intrigue to see what's going to happen next."

Hall, 31, grew up as a child actor at the Springer and spent nine years in New York City touring with productions and studying dance. He worked with Ann Reinking and Dana Moore, both of whom studied and danced with acclaimed "Damn Yankees" choreographer Bob Fosse.

"I'm a very lucky person," Hall says. "Working with people like Reinking and Moore because they truly know the Fosse language, and there is a language to it."

Dancer and choreographer Bob Fosse was known for his athletic and sensual style. The show is classic Fosse, with the sultriness and the stylized pelvic moves. "It's seductive yet simple," Hall says.

Recognizing that "there is more to choreographing than just giving a few dance steps," Hall strives to "give true color to the choreography."

"I want the guys to look like baseball players," Hall continues. "I want them to mimic the movement and understand what it is to wind up and throw a ball. It really is the momentum of what you're about to do."

For more intimate scenes, Hall works with the actors "in the moment."

"There's a scene with Meg and young Joe together that is just beautiful. I staged that number with realism in it. When she does rub his arms, I said to Debbie, remember what it felt like to feel his muscles and how it was to be in his arms. I feel so humble to work with her. I can't believe I'm giving these pros direction. It's been just awesome."

Jon Hayden of Atlanta returns to the Springer stage as Mr. Applegate (the Devil) after portraying Victor Velasco in "Barefoot in the Park" last fall.

"It's not often you get to play such a historical figure," Hayden laughs. "My wife says that I was just really born for this."

Applegate's frustration is fun for Hayden to explore. "I am unable to tempt him in any way, shape or form," Hayden adds. "After all these centuries, I still can't beat love, and I can't beat the essence of this show, which is the partnership that this couple has. It stands the test of time. He won't take a beautiful broad and he won't take fame and riches. I won't give it away, but the truth is, love conquers all."

THE CAST

Joe Boyd: Steve Valentini discovered the Springer Opera House at the age of 15 when he joined the cast of the musical comedy, "Celebration." After that came "Hello Dolly," "The Man Who Came to Dinner," "God's Favorite" (with the late Ellen Conger and the late Art Lane) and other works with the the Springer's Children's Theater. Steve went on to perform in regional dinner and cabaret theaters around the country, only to return after 10 years to where it all started. The Springer has been home to him ever since. He has been working as a guest artist for the Springer for more than 20 seasons, where he roles include "My Fair Lady," "Man of La Mancha," "Camelot," "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Full Monty." Some of his favorite shows have been partnering with Debbie Anderson, including "The King and I," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Ragtime" and, now, "Damn Yankees."

Meg Boyd: Debbie Anderson is a local favorite for her singing at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Temple Israel and original cabaret shows with Steve Valentini. Roles at the Springer include "Why, Baby Why: The Music of George Jones and Tammy Wynette," "The King and I," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "The Phantom," "Honky Tonk Angels" and "Ragtime."

Applegate: Jon Hayden received his bachelor's degree from Carnegie Mellon. He returns after appearing last fall in "Barefoot in the Park." He just appeared as Drake in "Annie" at the Fox Theatre. He toured this season in "Fiddler on the Roof." Other performances include "Are We There Yet?," "The Time of Your Life," "The Bald Soprano" and "The Manson Story." His TV credits include "Six Pack," "Coward of the County" and "North and South." His movie credits include "Dawn of the Dead" and "Ghostbusters."

Joe Hardy: Nick Morrett appeared at the Springer in "Man of La Mancha" and "Seussical the Musical." He earned his bachelor's degree in musical theater from Kennesaw State University. He works at Coca-Cola and also teaches voice, piano and drama. Favorite regional credits include "A Chorus Line," "The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "Hairspray," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Pageant the Musical," "Forever Plaid" and "Kiss Me Kate."

Lola: Marisa Rivera received her bachelor's degree in musical theater from the University of Florida. She has performed in regional theaters and theme parks in Oklahoma, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Recently she has appeared at Walt Disney World, Hersheypark, Sight and Sound, Holy Land Experience, Discoverland USA! and American Music Theater. She joined the Actors' Equity Association while performing at Fulton Theater in Lancaster, Pa., where she performed in the original versions of "The Little Mermaid," "Jack in the Beanstalk," "The Nutcracker," "The Sound of Music" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

Van Buren: Eric Bricking appeared at the Springer in "Guys and Dolls." He has worked for the Springer in many capacities, including performing in "Route 66" and was the road manager for "Cotton Patch Gospel." Some of his favorite roles include "The Secret Garden," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "A Christmas Carol." This summer he will go back to Denali National Park in Alaska for his ninth season as production manager for "The Music of Denali," an original musical written about the first ascent of Mount McKinley. He graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a bachelor's degree in musical theater.

Gloria: Helen Varner returned to Columbus a year ago and has been busy on the Springer stage and the Springer Theater Academy as a teacher. She's been in "The Wizard of Oz" and "Dracula." At Atlanta Lyric, she has been in "Thoroughly Modern Millie. She teaches musical theater at the Springer, dance at Toni's Dancing School and Zumba.

Sohovick: Shane Hall is the choreographer for "Damn Yankees" and choreographed "Cinderella" at the Springer in December. He played the Scarecrow and choreographed "The Wizard of Oz." He danced as Dream Curly and appeared as Slim in "Oklahoma!" Shane's national tours include "Cats," "Chicago," "Beauty and the Beast" and "White Christmas." He is the owner and artistic director of Prodigy Dance Centre. He is also a featured dancer in "Damn Yankees."

Sister: Brittain White studies theater at Columbus State University, where she is a member of Alpha Psi Omega and the theater honors society. She has performed in "Once on This Island," "Crazy for You" and "The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and was the stage manager for the Springer Children's Theater production of "Go, Dog, Go."

Doris: Tori Griggs has appeared in the Springer Children's Theater productions of "Sideways Stories from Wayside School," "The Big Friendly Giant," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Go, Dog, Go." She appeared in the Mainstage production of "High School Musical," "Peter Pan" and "A Christmas Carol." She is a representative to the Springer's Student Advisory Board.

Welch: Raymond Campbell has appeared in many, many Springer shows including "St. Elmo," "Carnival," "The Fantasticks," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (Hysterium, Pseudolus and Lycus, but not in the same production), "Charm School," "Carousel," "Oklahoma!," "My Fair Lady," "Annie," "A Christmas Carol." He was last seen in "Cinderella" in December. It's hard to keep him off the stage. He is a court reporter for the Muscogee County Superior Court.

Lynch: Jimmy Motos has appeared in three different Springer productions of "Guys and Dolls," playing Arvide, Benny Southstreet and Rusty Charlie. Other Springer credits include "Mame," "Sweeney Todd," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Camelot," "Singin' in the Rain," "The Phantom," "Carousel" and "Inherit the Wind." He is retired from Muscogee County School District, where he was a National Distinguished Principal. During the Springer's 1969 production of "Mame," he became engaged to his wife, Barbara, and each night as she sat in the Presidential box, he would sing is solo, "You're My Girl" to her.

Henry: Dureyea Collier graduated from Columbus State University, where he appeared in "The Crucible," "Cloud Nine," "The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "Fences," "Fuddy Meers" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He also choreographed "The Rocky Horror Show" for Fabrefaction Theatre Co. in Atlanta. He appeared in the chorus of "Cinderella" at the Springer.

Smokey: Sam Beman has appeared at the Springer in "The Member of the Wedding," "Guys and Dolls," "Seussical the Musical," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Ragtime," "Macbeth," "Footloose" and "Inherit the Wind." He has also trained with Whole World Improv Theatre in Atlanta. He also plays the Commissioner in "Damn Yankees."

Linville: Donterrius Ruff has been doing shows at the Springer since the age of 10, when he debuted as a Munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz." His other Springer shows include "A Christmas Carol," "The King and I" and "Carousel." He was also in "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," "Three Can Play That Game" and "Pastor Brown."

Bryan: Josh Rebuck appeared in "A Piece of My Heart" and "The Breakfast Club" at Columbus State University, as well as "The Rock Horror Show" and "The Taming of the Shrew" with the Chattahoochee Shakespeare Co. He graduated from CSU with a bachelor's degree in English and made his first Springer appearance in "The Wizard of Oz" and was most recently seen in "Cinderella."

Bouley: Daniel Kunze appeared in "Big River" and "James and the Giant Peach" at the Springer. He is studying theater at Columbus State University and most recently appeared ing "Neighborhood 3" as Jared.

Lowe: Omar Colon appeared in "Kelly's Truck Stop Bop" at the Loft, "Blood Wedding" at Riverside Theatre, "Why Mosquitoes Buzz" and "Once Upon a Mattress" at Columbus State University and "Winnie the Pooh," "James and the Giant Peach," "Tartuffe," "Man of La Mancha" and "Cinderella" at the Springer.

Chip: Amos Frantz has appeared in Springer shows like "A Christmas Carol," "Amazing Grace" and "Peter Pan." He is a senior at Hardaway High School and is hoping to study theater at Columbus State University in the fall.

Ballplayer: Kaylen Morgan appeared in "Footloose" at the Springer. At the Liberty Theatre, he has appeared in "High School Musical" and "The Scottsboro Boys." He was named best actor in a one-act competition when he was in high school.

Postmaster: Heather Grover is appearing in her first show since sixth grade. She has worked numerous shows at the Springer like "The Full Monty," "High School Musical" and "Dracula." This show combines two of her favorite pastimes, baseball and musicals. She is also in the ensemble.

Ensemble: Alicia Thompson has performed at the Liberty Theatre in "Direct from Deathrow: The Scottsboro Boys," "Rejalene," "I've Got the Music in Me," "The Wiz," "Neat" and "High School Musical."

Ensemble: Anitra Thompson is Alicia's twin sister. She is a junior at Columbus State University. At the Liberty Theatre, she has appeared in "I've Got the Music in Me," "Neat" and "Rejalene." She was named Best Actress in District A one-act play competition in 2008. She performed in the Springer's "High School Musical."

Ensemble: Jordan Demers studies theater at Columbus State University, where she has appeared in "Neighborhood 3," "Alice and the Realm" and "A Piece of My Heart." She sings and has been playing guitar for five years. She has played sports throughout high school, which has given her a unique understanding of "Damn Yankees."

Ensemble: Gabina Ramroop has been a volunteer at the Springer. She has been an extra in several movies and made her Springer debut in "Cinderella" in December.

Ensemble: Melissa Weaver-Bussey was born and reared in Atlanta. During her time in Columbus, she has performed at events at the Columbus Civic Center. She has performed in "The Steve Harvey Project" and on Harvey's radio show.

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