André De Shields is having a devilishly good time leading the cast of Damn Yankees with Felcia Finley as the sultry temptress Lola and Austin Miller as handsome ace rookie Joe Hardy, at The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. I thoroughly enjoyed this top notch production of the multiple Tony-award winning 1955 musical, seamlessly helmed by John Simpkins, and featuring musical direction by Mark Hartman and choreography by Stephanie Lang. Michael Schweikardt sets, Michelle Eden Humphrey’s costumes and Mark Adam Rampmeyer’s hair and wig designs, are spot on in evoking a 1950’s nostalgic air for Damn Yankees, which takes place in Washington D.C. at a time when the New York Yankees dominated baseball. The musical features words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop. Damn Yankees, produced for the John W. Engeman Theater by Richard T. Dolce, the theater’s Producing Artistic Director, has performances through August 29, 2010.
The set up of this Faustian tale is simple: Joe Boyd (Scott Davidson), a middle-aged, happily married baseball fan is despondent over the losing streak of his favorite team, the Washington Senators. When Joe ruminates that he would give anything to see them win against the New York Yankees, the devil appears in the form of Applegate (De Shields), who suggests he might be willing to trade his soul if the Senators won not only the pennant but also the World Series. Joe wisely suggests an out clause, and is transformed into Joe Hardy (Austin Miller), a young baseball phenom that upon joining the Washington Senators, leads the team to one victory after another. Even though Joe is happy about the winning streak, he misses his wife and has misgivings. Applegate summons reinforcement in the form of Lola and her sexy moves, to capture his heart.
The fine cast features Stephen Berger as Coach Van Buren, Scott Davidson as Joe Boyd, Jan Leigh Herndon as Meg, Rebecca Kupka Overton as Gloria Thorpe, and is rounded out by William C. Bailey, Solomon Buchman, Amanda Trusty, Rebecca Stavis, Bronson N. Murphy, James Lee Glatz, James Erickson, Jeremy Morse, Zander Meisner, Andrew Leggieri, Amy Jane Finnerty, Kristen da Costa, Ashley Chasteen, Jason “Sweet Tooth” Williams and Freddie Kimmel.
De Shields, in his element raising hell as the charming and slyly seductive Applegate, had the audience spellbound during his rendition of his musical number “Those Were The Good Old Days.”
In a career that has spanned four decades, De Shields is best known for his electrifying performances in the original Broadway productions of The Wiz in 1975 (title role), Ain’t Misbehavin’ in 1978 (Drama Desk nomination), Play On! in 1997 (Tony nomination) and The Full Monty in 2000, for which he received Tony, Drama Desk and Astaire Award nominations, in addition to both the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Awards. His other Broadway credits include an autobiographical revue, Haarlem Nocturne, and the world premier of two new American plays: Mark Medoff’s Prymate (Drama Desk nomination) and Michael Jacob’s Impressionism, with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen. He is the recipient of the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award, the 2007 Village Voice OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance and the 2009 AUDELCO Award for Outstanding Performance in a Musical/Male. He won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Achievement for his performance in the 1982 NBC broadcast of Ain’t Misbehavin’.
New York theatre audiences have seen De Shields in productions as varied as Cato at The Flea, Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor at the Melting Pot Theatre, Let Me Sing at The George Street Playhouse, Lonnie Carter’s The Gulliver Trilogy at La MaMa e.t.c. and his solo work-in-progress Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: From Douglass to Deliverance at The Abingdon Theatre about abolitionist Frederick Douglass. At the Classical Theatre of Harlem, he has been seen as Makak in Derek Walcott’s Dream On Monkey Mountain, in the title roles of Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, CALIGULA and King Lear, directed by Alfred Preisser. Regional audiences have witnessed him as Henry Drummond in Inherit The Wind, Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman, Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came To Dinner, Scott Joplin in Tin Pan Alley Rag, Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, Jacob Strand in Ibsen’s Ghosts (starring Jane Alexander), and the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.
Damn Yankees has performances Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m., Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Starting July 25, there will be performances on Sunday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Additionally, there will be performances on Wednesday evenings at 8:00 p.m., starting August 4.
Tickets are $60, and can be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street in Northport, or online at www.engemantheater.com.
Theatermania.com Kathleen Chalfant, André De Shields, Michael Greif, Moisés Kaufman, et al. Part of Tony Awards Nominating Committee
variety.com Greif, Kaufman join Tony nominators
theatermania.com André De Shields and Felicia Finley discuss starring in the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of Damn Yankees.
Nantucket Island Inquirer: One-man show channels abolitionist Frederick Douglass
broadwayworld.com De Shields’ MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY Comes To TWN 7/12
The National: Acting the Part
Multimedia: Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: From Douglass to Deliverance Opening Night Photos: André De Shields, Mercedes Ellington and Alfred Preisser
Achieving the American Dream, Professional Charmer André De Shields Sees Theater is a Way to Life
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