Review: Damn Yankees is a smash-hit

Performers smash the ball out of the park in a musical which is enjoying its East Midlands premiere this week.

Ripley and Alfreton Musical Theatre Company fields a strong team for its production of Damn Yankees, scoring maximum points for a pacy presentation which highlights its reputation as major players on the amateur scene.

Stunning choreography, superb vocalisation and neat characterisation put this musical in a league of its own. Everyone pitches in to make the presentation a winner and one which would give any professional side a run for its money.

The team never drops the ball in playing out the story of a sports-mad hubby who makes a pact with the devil in an effort to reverse the fortunes of his heroes who are on a losing streak.

It may be baseball but that doesn’t diminish the power of the musical to engage its viewers and have them rooting for the Washington Senators to lift that coveted pennant.

The athleticism and energy of the baseball team is mirrored in a knockout dance scene featuring back-flips, cartwheels and standing-start forward rolls. Charmian Hardy playing investigative reporter Gloria Thorpe gets in on the act by cartwheeling across the stage in high heels!

Mambo dancers in bright dresses burn up the stage in a sizzling number which is testament to the hard work of choreographer and director Chris Parkes.

Cheerleading kids, under the banner of The Chevy Chase Fan Club, look cute in baseball jackets and caps as they reprise the signature song Heart. Their adult leaders, played by Helen Steele and Jane Oates, raise the comedy stakes as they turn out in eye-catching dresses worthy of pantomime dames.

While the kaleidoscope of colourful movement in the ensemble scenes are a joy to watch, it’s the individual performances which make this show a smash-hit.

Andy Quinn is knockout as the baseball hero who turns a losing side into league champions and shuns temptation to achieve his target. His singing is top dollar, especially in his duets with Yvonne Taylor who plays old Joe’s wife, Meg. Yvonne is a delight to listen to and watch, characterising the role of long-suffering 50s housewife just perfectly.

Jim Fearn comes dangerously close to stealing the show in his role as smooth-talking, soul-seizing devil Mr Applegate. He gives a masterclass in characterisation with a resonant voice that sounds like it’s drawn from the bowels of Hell, a smile to melt the polar icecap and a manic laugh that would have The Joker in Batman laughing on the other side of his face. While the devil may not not get the best tune in this show, he definitely gets the best scene as he’s surrounded by feather fan dancers in a routine that could have been plucked from a Las Vegas nightspot.

In her role as Lola, the home wrecker from Hell who is league with the devil, Rachel Clines gives a performance as glittering as her sparkly dresses. She plays a saucy senorita with a sexy voice who tries to seduce Joe away from his wife and raises the blood pressure of male viewers with a seductive dance in which she peels off layers of frilly skirts.

David Ian Jones in the role of baseball coach, Roger Bode as team owner and Richard Leivers as middle-aged fan who starts the ball rolling, help to raise the game.

The lively score is played by a ten-strong orchestra, conducted by musical director Morris Fisher.

No stone has been left unturned to bring a little bit of America to mid-Derbyshire. The aroma of sizzling hot dogs greets you as you walk into the auditorium at Alfreton Grange Arts Colllege and your eyes are drawn to the Stars and Stripes bunting strung up around the hall. White picket fencing, a mailbox and back projected footage of a baseball game are reminders of life across the pond.

Damn Yankees continues its winning run until Saturday, April 19.

GAY BOLTON