by Venessa Anderson '99
Asst. A&E Editor
Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to the land of live theater. It is the land where anything can happen. Welcome to the land where naked men, disgruntled musicians, and acceptable character breaks happen. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the land of Damn Yankees.
This past Tuesday, March 18th, Damn Yankees made its Providence debut at the Providence Performing Arts Center, however, much to peoples dismay, things were not going as planned. Audience members sensed something was wrong when they walked in the front of the building and found musicians striking the PPAC. They could also sense some tension when the doors to the theater opened much later than usual and the show ran twenty-five minutes late. Some audience members were so discontented that they started to chant-clap to get the show started. Their rudeness didn't work, although it did force a semi-bewildered Jerry Lewis on the stage with the apologetic explanation that the there was an incredible mix-up. Problems had arisen because Damn Yankees had brought their own musicians, creating stress with PPAC's own musicians. To settle the problem, a whole new orchestra of musicians were hired at the last minute. Everyone became nervous. "How will these new musicians and their inexperience with this music work out?" was the question of the hour. Music can make or break and show, and much to the relief of everyone, (the cast, the musicians, and the audience members) the musicians were wonderful and professional. The overture received many approving claps and voices.
The show finally got started at 7:30, a half an hour late. Unfortunately, the delay caused many pessimistic mind frames. I had doubts for several reasons. I wasn't much of a fan of Jerry Lewis, I didn't appreciate the delay, and I really hadn't heard much about the actual show. The first number, "Six Months Out of Every Year," wasn't very impressive. The music wasn't that grand and the orchestra was just getting warmed up. It was difficult to hear the singers and I don't think the musicians realized how loud they were playing. Plus, the choreography was not magnificent and characters weren't that enthusiastic. Let's just say, it took a few minutes to really get into the show.
Damn Yankees started to redeem itself, though, with the third number, "Blooper Ballet." Those good ol' baseball players reclaimed themselves and the rest of the cast with their fantastic dance. The number had incredible choreography and dancers, plus the actors were having a blast with the song and it showed. My attitude towards the show started to change, and the next number, "Heart," completely transformed my opinion. I started to enjoy myself.
Overall, Damn Yankees, (I almost hate to admit this) is definitely one of the most entertaining plays I have seen in a long time. Granted, the acting, at times was poor. Joy Franz who plays Meg Boyd "over-acted" so much that I almost felt bad for her. Her facial and body expressions were so poor that I wanted to go up on stage and whisper in her ear to calm it down a bit. Her only saving quality was her singing voice. However, the humor of the show was incredible. The "Senators," or the baseball boys, were great. Lola, played by Susan Taylor, was also a high-light of the show. The men in the audience were drooling over her "fat-free" body and unusually long legs, while everyone else was impressed with her voice, her acting, and her wonderful dancing. Her first number, "A Little Brains, A Little Talent," wasn't that good because the song really wasn't in her vocal range, but everything else Taylor attempted was superb.
Now to get to the subject that everyone is curious about: Jerry Lewis. Yes, Jerry Lewis was the big name that made this show a success. Yes, Jerry Lewis can be pretty annoying. But, yes, (this is really hard for me to write...) Jerry Lewis was great. There. I admitted it. Yes, Jerry Lewis is a marvelous entertainer. As the man sitting next to me said, "He still has what it takes."
Last week I interviewed John-Michael Flate (Joe Hardy) and asked him what his favorite part of the show was. His answer was Act One, Scenes Six; it is the scene where Lewis is wearing the fireman's outfit. Flate explained that he loved this scene because Jerry always tries to make him laugh during it. Much to my pleasure, much to Flate's dismay, Jerry's antics just happened to work this past Tuesday. Audience members started to giggle when they noticed Flate and Lewis cracking small grins. Little by little, the grins got bigger and bigger, to the point where both men had to turn their backs to laugh. It eventually got so bad (in a good sense) that the two of them just gave up. Flate turned to the audience and mumbled some sort of apology, but Lewis shot a goofy smile and said, about his co-actor, "He's a bitch to work with." In defense, Flate mentioned later that evening that "he was picking on me. I just couldn't help it." The humor of the scene was unbelievable.
Another great scene was the "Those Were the Good Old Days" number. For all intensive purposes, this was Jerry's part of the play. This scene was made for Jerry to shine. The action of the scene basically revolves around Jerry and his "cane trick." He throws a cane up in the air and tries to catch it behind his back, but until he can actually catch the cane, he improvises and tells some hilarious jokes. It's really a crowd pleaser scene, and I'd be ashamed to admit that I liked it, if it wasn't good, but, the scene was great.
I think the sets and the costumes are also worth mentioning. I liked the fact that all of Lola's costumes had pink in them, and that everyone had on a completely new costumes for curtain call. I thought that was original and something you don't see very often. The sets were, in a new-agey, fifties sort of way, intriguing. One number that I loved the set-up for was "Near to You." It was simple in the way that it was the bedroom of the Boyd's house, but complex in the way that two souls were portrayed through scrims to create a really awe-some effect. I also like how the sets could turn around so that the inside of the house would rotate and show the outside in less than a second. You really got the effect that the characters were walking out of their house.
Like I said earlier, this play is one of the most entertaining shows I have seen in awhile. I think what I liked most about the play was that there were so many abnormal occurrence that evening that everything seemed new. When you think about it, how many times does a strike, and character breaks happen in one show? Not many. Seeing Jerry Lewis deal with these problems was great. He did not lose his cool once. I think I loved this performance so much because I saw first hand that theater really is the land where anything can and does happen. If nothing else, go to the play just to see the naked guy. He's kind of chubby, but he has a great sense of humor. To get tickets to see Damn Yankees, you can call 421-ARTS for more information.