The Shaw Festival
Grab a hotdog and head for the bleachers (Shaw Festival) to catch a spectacular revival of the ever-popular ‘Damn Yankees’ now playing through the summer at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This particular performance had an inordinate number of understudies taking over and the show seamlessly continued with marked precision and energy – a tribute to both the talented cast and Brian Hill’s direction.
Another highlight punctuating the success of this production was Cory Sincennes’ brilliant design which was clearly intended to unabashedly immerse this period piece in the heart of 1950s post-war America. This added a sense of nostalgia and integrity to the story. The set included posters advertising new household gimmicks and nuclear families, art deco furniture and blinking black and white TV sets. Costumes included wildly printed a-line dresses, zoot suits and baggy baseball outfits that would make a modern player cringe. A soaring red canopy bed was another highlight.
The Washington Senators stink and everyone hates the Yankees. In a ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment, Joe Boyd makes a deal with the devil to relive his youth and become a Senators star and help beat the New Yorkers. Disappearing from his wife and suburban comfort, Joe is torn between fame and his cross-generational yearning. The devil (Applegate) continues through the play as Joe’s manager, lawyer and social director all with a plan to eventually steal his soul. The Senators finally beat the Yankees, just as Applegate makes one final effort to embarrass Joe who makes the last dramatic catch, as the old Joe, who then rushes back to his home – the everyman can also be a star.
Shining out of an accomplished cast were two brilliant performances. Mike Nadajewski as Applegate (Devil) was effortlessly chameleon-like. Just as the devil changes shapes, Mr. Nadajewski roams through various personalities, partly listed earlier, with both precision and abandonment. He cements his star turn with the campy ‘Those Were the Good Old Days’ thrilling the audience with his George M. Cohen-like number complete with straw hat and cane. The second rich performance came from Elodie Gillett as Applegate’s colleague Lola. Her exotic, sultry style suited the homewrecker to be. Her voice soared in ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ and a duet with Joe (James Daly) was striking. Mr. Daly did a lot of heavy lifting as the dashing Joe Hardy and was most endearing in ‘A Man Doesn’t Know.’ Another captivating comic performance came from Gabrielle Jones as the likeable Miss Weston whose squeaky voice and dreamy fawning gave way to some elegant dance routines with her posse of excited groupies.
This production is elevated by creative choreography from Allison Plamondon. ‘The Game’ was especially endearing. Special effects from Skylar Fox added some mind-contorting illusions – floating balls, human transformation, and a magical wardrobe among others. Clever sound design from John Lott was highlighted by the unmistakable sound of ‘bat on ball’ – each ‘crack’ was subtly different as the unseen ball moved in various directions.
This writer would be remiss to not mention a spectacular final exit that most actors probably dream of executing. Elodie Gillett, as Lola, somehow engineers her own portal into one of Dante’s circles of hell – we see some wispy evidence of brimstone as she slowly moves in, red dress steaming and blond hair flashing until – she is gone.
‘Damn Yankees’ by Richard Adlar and Jerry Ross
Performers: Andrew Broderick, Shane Carty, James Daly, Peter Fernandes, JJ Gerber, Elodie Gillett, Patty Jamieson, Gabrielle Jones, Graeme Kitagawa, Caitlyn MacInnis, Allison McCaughey, Kevin McLachlan, Mike Nadajewski, Drew Plummer, Kimberley Rampersad, Alana Randall, David Andrew Reid, Ric Reid, Jade Repeta, Adam Sergison, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane, Taurian Teelucksingh, Jaqueline Thair, Jay Turvey, Kelly Wong.
Director: Brian Hill
Music Director: Paul Sportelli
Choreography: Allison Plamondon
Set and Costumes Design: Cory Sincennes
Sound Design: John Lott
Lighting Design: Mikael Kangas
Magic and illusions Design: Skylar Fox
Performances run through October 9, 2022.