“Take off your coat, don’t you know you can’t win”
Though the North Americans may call their baseball championship the World Series, it is safe to say that the charms of this particular sport don’t necessarily span the globe and have never really travelled across the ocean (how could it, in the face of rounders). Which might go some way to explaining why Damn Yankees has never managed quite the same level of success as other 1950s musical comedies in theatres here, not least The Pajama Game, also with songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, which is about to transfer into the West End after opening in Chichester last year.
That said, the story is less about flyball pitchers, squeeze plays and home runs and more about obsessions (sporting or otherwise) and the lengths to which people will go to chase dreams. Indeed, it stands as a modern reinterpretation of the Faust legend as couch potato Joe accepts a devilish deal from the mysterious Mr Applegate to become the young and successful baseball player he once dreamed of being, raising eyebrows across town, from his hard-done-by wife Meg to intrepid reporter Gloria.
Directed by Dom O’Hanlon, Imperial Productions have come up with something really quite charming here, cognisant of its constrained circumstances but celebrating its fringe values too. The show is something of a foot-tapping, wise-cracking delight as hapless Joe gets turned into Shoeless Joe (by changing his top, natch) and sporting glory he dreamed of comes his way, along with the pitfalls of fame. Liam Christopher-Lloyd has to work a little to be convincing as an old soul here but vocally, he emerges as an exciting talent.
Jenny Delisle is excellent as his devoted wife, wryly amusing at first as she sings of being a sports widow for six months of every year but getting closer to heartbreak as the real thing becomes a possibility with her husband so changed. Rachel Lea Gray’s newshound Gloria is a vibrantly impressive presence and Charlotte Donald as devil’s agent Lola (as in ‘Whatever Lola Wants’, one of several songs you didn’t know were from this show) is a Latina lighting rod of sensuality working her way through Becky East’s expressive choreography. Lots of fun