Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Who's Got the Pain When They Do the Mambo?
I would suspect Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon have got the pain when Jane Krakowski does the mambo in City Center's production of Damn Yankees. Don't get me wrong - she's not horrible in any way. She gets through all the singing and dancing just fine, her leg extending not quite as high as her dancing partners, her voice tiring just a smidge, but she just can't shake the ghost of Gwen Verdon - especially when she's stuck slavishly recreating the show's original choreography. I'm getting a little ahead of myself though - let's back it up.
Damn Yankees, for those of you who don't know, is one of those "classic" musicals from the 1950's. The basic plot is an old (and by old, I mean 50) guy trades his soul to the Devil so that he can be a great baseball player and save his team, the Washington Senators (who eventually went the way of the Brooklyn Dodgers and disappeared), so that they can win the pennant and beat the Yankees. However, he has an "escape clause" that allows him to trade back one day before the season ends. It is just as silly as it sounds.
As far as the current version goes, it's not bad. The dancing shines in numbers like "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo" and "Two Lost Souls." Basically, any group number looks great. I felt sorry for poor Jane Krakowski though. She's immensely talented (I love her on 30 Rock), but she just can't quite inhabit the character of Lola - particularly when she's dancing. The movement seems inorganic in her body - which makes sense, since it was modeled after Gwen Verdon's specific mannerisms.
Sean Hayes makes an entertaining Devil. He can't quite separate himself from "Jack" on Will & Grace, but I didn't really expect him to, so I wasn't let down. His big number "Those Were the Good Old Days," broke away from the mold and showed off his piano playing, which was a nice surprise.
One thing that really turned me off from the production was the tongue in cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude of the whole thing. Yes, the book is silly. Yes, the material is dated. But if that's what you're working with, respect it and try to take it as seriously as it was taken when it was first written. Hey, it worked for South Pacific.
If you enjoy classic musicals and Fosse dancing, by all means, go get a ticket. If not, this is one for you to skip.