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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at New York City Center ( Encores! Summer Stars Series)

By Mervyn Rothstein

  Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski/PH:Joan Marcus

The devil sums it up.

Lola, personified by Jane Krakowski , has tried and failed to get what she wants - Joe Hardy, formerly Joe Boyd, the middle-aged Washington Senators fan who has sold his soul for a pennant. Lola's method doesn't work these days, says Sean Hayes as Mr. Applegate, the cloven-hoofed one - It's too old-fashioned.

The same can be said for City Center Encores'! largely insipid production of Damn Yankees. The show may have won the 1956 Tony Award as best musical, but we're not in 1956 any more.

The show's book, by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop (based on Wallop's book The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant), has some clever moments, but it's essentially paper-thin, and falls apart on the City Center stage, especially in the second act. The score, by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, has a few tuneful half-century-old hits (Heart, Whatever Lola Wants) but in its own heart it's fifties pop-music bland. The Bob Fosse choreography is pleasant enough for early Fosse, but it never catches fire.

The cast is good, and mostly enjoyable to watch, but only that. Hayes is only intermittently devilish, and occasionally tries to make up for his insufficiently satanic essence by breaking into his will and Grace TV persona. Krakowski as the devil's temptress tries hard to impersonate Gwen Verdon, the original Lola, for whom Fosse created the choreography. And that's the problem. She's obviously working, rather than making it seem effortless.

Cheyenne Jackson as Joe Hardy has a pleasingly powerful voice, but he also is bland - though perhaps that's what his character should be. Only Randy Graff as the older Joe's wife inhabits her role. She sings with a believable passion, a heart-breaking awareness that she has lost her love and that when she had him, she didn't appreciate him. Her duet with Jackson, A Man Doesn't Know, is one of the musical's few moments of vital believability.

The Encores! revival series plays an important part in the world of New York musicals, even if it more often than not aims for the blockbuster rather than keeps to its stated goal of giving neglected shows a new look. Last year, for the first musical in its new Summer Stars series, Encores! brought back Gypsy, with Patti LuPone, The production moved to Broadway and won three Tony awards this year, including one for its star.

One could question the need for another Gypsy, but the fact that the revival gave LuPone a chance to play Mamma Rose was sufficient reason for its being.

It seems clear that Encores! also hoped to move Damn Yankees, with its two well-known stars, to Broadway. That possibility seems less likely now, although you never know. Gypsy has luster, something that Damn Yankees lacks.



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