Produced by: Foothill Music Theatre
Featuring: Jeff Clarke as Mr. Applegate, Jen Wheatonfox as Lola, Dan Mitchell as Joe Hardy. Also features Richard Lewis (Van Buren), Caitlyn Lawrence-Papp (Gloria), Ryan Henry (Lynch, the Commissioner), Matt Tipton (Joe Boyd), and Mary Melnick (Meg Boyd). The Washington Senators include Marc Celani (Lowe), Elijah Diamond (Mark), Remi Ferguson (Bryant), Brandon Gong (Linville), Mark Helton (Smokey), Aaron Hurley (Sohovic), Nathan Kastle (Bouley), Bobby Lopez (Mickey), Sean Okenewicz (Del), Jerris Ramirez (Rocky), Billy Schmidt (Vernon), and Jacob Weissman-Sharer (Henry). Also in the cast are Chloe Aknin, Alexandra Allen, Angela Cesena, Jamie Chew, Steve Completo, Ivette Deltoro, Beverly Hansberry, Haley Henson, Dana Johnson, Kayvon Kordestani, Elizabeth Lawrence, Sarah Lodick, Courtney Petro, Brittany Pirucki, Caite Prather, Holly Smolik, Forrest Tang, and Charnee Young.
Directed by: Tom Gough
Musical direction by: Catherine Snider
Choreography by: Katie O'Bryon
When: July 26 through August 18, 2013. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Smithwick Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, California. Parking in Student Parking Lots 5, 7, or 8 (use Lot 5 for no-stairs access). Visitors must purchase the required parking permit for $3. Foothill College is located off I-280 on El Monte Road in Los Altos Hills.
Tickets: $10-$28. Visit www.foothillmusicals.com or call 650-949-7360.
Read John Orr's interview with Jen Wheatonfox in Triviana Arts & Entertainment.
Read Paul Freeman's interview with Daniel Mitchell in The Daily News.
at Foothill Music Theatre
OK, so there were a couple of problems with the show at the Sunday matinee of "Damn Yankees" at Foothill Music Theatre.
But it's still a delightful production in almost every way, and I am here today to encourage you to go see this wonderful show.
I grew up watching the 1958 movie on television, and loving it. Sunday at Foothill Music Theatre was the first time I've seen it live, and it was an almost complete blast.
The music and lyrics, by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, are the things of legend, with great song after song "Goodbye Old Girl," "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO," "A Man Doesn't Know," "Two Lost Souls" and "Whose Got the Pain?" among them.
But those tunes all the kinds of songs that would have people humming them on the way out of the auditorium are overwhelmed by the killer tunes, (You've gotta have) "Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants," which have become a part of the lingua fraca.
And this production has a collection of excellent singers, who deliver all the tunes with, indeed, a lot of heart, from the principals to the ensemble.
It's the story of Joe Boyd, a middle-aged fellow who loves his wife, but tends to forget she exists during the baseball season. Which is why she sings "Six Months Out of Every Year," wherein she talks about meeting him in November and agreeing in December to marry him. What a surprise she got in April, when the season opened.
Joe loves the Washington Senators, a very consistent team they lose every game.
He says he'd sell his soul to help them win, which brings the attention of Mr. Applegate, who's willing to make that deal.
Joe, a shrewd real-estate agent, insists on an escape clause. He has till September 24 to change his mind. The rest of the play is Joe becoming a baseball phenom who bats over .500, and Applegate trying to make sure that Joe doesn't exercise his escape clause.
The fine singing starts with Matt Tipton as Old Joe and Mary Melnick as his wife, Meg, singing "Six Months Out of Every Year," with the excellent ensemble. The men's part: "You're blind, ump! You're blind, ump! You must be out of your mind, ump!"
The lovely ballad, "Goodbye Old Girl" starts with Old Joe singing, before Applegate transforms him into young Joe Hardy, who is sung and played by Daniel Mitchell. Both men sing very well.
Then we meet the team, led by Richard Lewis as manager Benny Van Buren, who gets the boys of summer to sing "Heart." Lewis looks born to play this role. He has the crusty old manager look, from his gape-mouthed face to his pot belly to his cleats walk. Plus, he's a great singer, and is fun to watch every moment he's on stage.
Mitchell is very good as young Joe Hardy. Terrific, booming voice, and a fine job of showing his love for his wife abandoned by the older Joe.
Jen Wheatonfox is delightful and fun as Lola, with a light of humor shining in her eyes, and plenty of hot moves as the vamp who is supposed to seal the deal with Joe.
Jeff Clarke is hilarious as Mr. Applegate, milking every moment of Applegate's insidious scheming and frustrated anger for every possible laugh.
Tipton and Melnick don't look old enough for their roles, but little matter. They both sing and act with great skill and emotion. Holly Smolik and Dana Johnson, as the Miller sisters, work hard for, and earn, the biggest laughs of the show.
The ensemble and dancers are great fun, and perform with solid enthusiasm and skill.
The scenic design by Margaret Toomey is simple but attractive and functional. The front of Old Joe's house is very charming. Janis Bergmann's costumes are great fun, reviving what would have looked right at home in the 1950s.
The aforementioned problems?
The bad news began with the overture. The 13-piece ensemble, conducted by Catherine Snider, went off key a few times in the overture, and continued to do so from time to time in the show. Teeth-gratingly off tune. We know pit orchestras face odd problems sometimes, but hope this group gets its music together soon. They had moments of excellence, marred by some ... unpleasant moments.
The other bad news was the wireless microphones system. Certainly needed in the huge Smithwick Theatre, but the gear needs to be properly maintained and worn. Lots of pops and clicks throughout the show, and plenty of noise from an actor or a costume dragging against the mic.
The absolute worst moment came when Mitchell and Wheatonfox were starting to sing "Two Lost Souls." During the tender part on the bench, before the big ensemble dance scene, Wheatonfox' mic popped and crashed so loudly that Mitchell actually jumped. It happened a second time, even louder, and Mitchell jumped again and looked, reasonably, terrified. But he came up with a great line anyway, for a character who is supposedly selling his soul: "God doesn't like this deal."
Wheatonfox's mic was dead for the rest of that scene, which was a crime. "Two Lost Souls" is a jumpin', jazzy number with the full ensemble dancing and getting drunk in a bar, and the performance Sunday was great, except Wheatonfox could not be heard. A hot duet with only once voice heard.
A theater professional, Wheatonfox carried on, but we would have been better served if director Tom Gough who otherwise did a fine job marshalling this fine, huge cast would have simply stopped the show and changed Wheatonfox's mic.
It's not like anybody in Los Altos Hills, nevermind in the auditorium, didn't know there was a problem.
The scene marched on anyway, and my guess is it was largely the original Bob Fosse choreography, with the kind of monstrous gambles for which he was known three people slumped over each other but parading across the stage; a fellow sidling across the stage on his hands as a string bass while another fellow plucked his legs as "strings." And helped along by choreographer Katie O'Bryon. A fantastic, Boschian scene that would have been better if we could have heard Wheatonfox.
The show goes on for "Damn Yankees" through August 18, 2013, and it seems likely that the orchestra will improve. And, we hope, the sound system will be fixed. Those things done, this is a great show.