McLean High School
We all root for our home team, but would you sell your soul just to win the big game? With their latest production, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School takes audiences out to the ballgame, where all you need is a little heart and a long ball hitter to beat those "Damn Yankees".
A modern reimagination of the Faust legend, "Damn Yankees" premiered on Broadway in 1955, featuring Gwen Verdon as Lola and choreography by Bob Fosse, the mastermind behind such hits as "Chicago" and "Cabaret." A smash hit, the musical was then adapted into a 1958 film. As the story begins, average Joe Boyd has a loving wife, a stable job, and die-hard love for the Washington Senators. But when the devilish Mr. Applegate rolls into town to make a deal, Joe must choose between the home he knows and being the baseball hero that the Senators need. With time running out and his soul on the line, Joe can't afford to strike out.
Joe Boyd's baseball-playing alter-ego, Joe Hardy, was played with a charming boyishness by Payton O'Keefe. His All-American persona and straightforward kindness shone through in his scenes with his wife Meg (Emma Tarquinio) as their relationship started from the beginning, meeting as strangers and connecting over shared loneliness. Both O'Keefe and Tarquinio shone vocally in numbers like "Near to You," their tender connection echoed in their harmonious tones.
The saying goes that villains have the most fun, and that was certainly true for Mr. Applegate (Robert Liniak) and his minion, Lola (Eleanor Whalen), a seductive temptress with a heart of gold. Liniak's devil-may-care attitude helped his clever puns and one-liners hit home every time, while his wickedly delightful showstopper, "Those Were the Good Old Days," benefitted from his propensity for Broadway-style camp and fun. In her turn, Whalen was both funny, as she tried unsuccessfully to seduce Joe, and sincere, as she fell in love with him. Though their plans were foiled, Applegate and Lola made for a truly entertaining pair.
A true standout of the night was Ian Coursey as Coach van Buren, who hides his affection for the players under a gruff exterior. With a stiff walk and a gravelly voice, Van Buren was the mature voice of reason among the Senators, encouraging them to have a little "Heart." The catalyst for team's energy, Coursey brought something special to an already outstanding ensemble.
The stage of "Damn Yankees" was truly transformed into a baseball stadium through the work of the set team; from stands filled with anxious crowds to a smoothly rotating house, bright colors and attention to detail were hallmarks of each scene. Also commendable were the makeup and hair designs that easily differentiated ages among the high school cast, clarifying which Joe was which at key points in the show.
Buy up some peanuts and Cracker Jacks and let Our Lady of Good Counsel High School's "Damn Yankees" take you back to a time when the Nationals were the Senators and a song and dance could solve everything. With an energetic ensemble and a heartwarming story, this production was nothing but a home run.
Woodrow Wilson High School
How far would you go to support your team? In Damn Yankees, a sporting twist on the Faust legend, aging baseball fanatic Joe Boyd swears he would sell his soul for the Washington Senators to win the pennant. When the smooth-talking Mr. Applegate, the devil in disguise, offers to transform Boyd into 22-year old slugger Joe Hardy so that the Senators can at last defeat those damn Yankees - how can he say no? Our Lady of Good Counsel's production of the 1955 Broadway hit brings America's favorite pastime to the stage and hits it out of the park!
Joe's metamorphosis from a long-suffering follower of the failing Senators to the dynamic player who would catalyze the team was burgeoned by Payton O'Keefe's charismatic performance. O'Keefe embodied the protagonist's old soul in a young body as he struggled with his abandonment of his wife, Meg (Emma Tarquino, matching him note for note in vocally impressive duets), and fought off scandalous accusations from journalists, including Gloria Thorpe, played in a scene-stealing turn by Rachel Kilgallon.
Though Joe realized the worth of his domestic tranquility after he had left it behind, those seeking to secure his soul for eternal damnation were loath to let him return. The wickedly funny Mr. Applegate, and Lola, legendary temptress and his chief henchwoman, elevated the production in two stellar performances by Robert Liniak and Eleanor Whalen, respectively. Both actors proved they had enough brains and enough talent to command the stage, with Liniak in particular energizing his iconic solo "Those Were the Good Old Days," for which he had only the austere backing of a curtain and a red spotlight, with comedic phrasing and pizzazz.
It was no mystery why Joe would root so hard for the Senators. The boundless energy, crisp harmonies, and lively dance which the team displayed was deserving of a championship win all on its own. Clad in detailed vintage uniforms constructed by Caroline O'Neil and Elizabeth Morris, whose costuming was essential to evoking the production's 1950s aesthetic, the baseball players served as an emotional center to this production, imbuing every song or scene in which they participated with high kicks and high spirits. Their fearless leaders, team owner Mr. Welch (Mason Schwartz) and Coach van Buren (Ian Coursey), were equally engaging, consistently matching each other's comedic timing and physicality. In numbers choreographed by Caroline Brown and Nia McBean-Linton, dancers Noelle Robinson and Elijah Bailey-Lowden flipped and spun across the stage, accentuating the dynamism of the ensemble. Adding to the productions' visual appeal was Sarah Small, Mariam Shamim and Sarah Russo's vivid scenic design-- especially the shifting parts which transitioned smoothly through live changes that seamlessly moved the plot along.
Baseball is more than a game- as Our Lady of Good Counsel's production proves, the crack of a bat, the smell of popcorn, and the cheering of fans, have found a place in American pathos that extends even to the theatre and such classic musicals as "Damn Yankees". Going beyond strong performances and sharp technical work, the team behind this fun-filled night is one that can never strike out.