BOTTOM LINE: A sexy little musical from the '50s that feels pretty campy in 2008; it stars Sean Hayes (Jack from Will and Grace) and Jane Krakowski (Jenna from 30 Rock). It's traditional American musical theatre, and a very fun way to spend a couple of hours.
The Encores! series at NY City Center presents revivals of great musical theatre, but only in short runs for just a couple of weeks. Led by a kick-ass orchestra (who sits on stage behind the action), Encores! shows are mounted truthfully to the show's original production with as much effort as time and money allow, and they usually have some big names involved to draw a crowd. Last summer, Encores! presented Gypsy, starring Patti LuPone. The show was so well-received that it garnered its own Broadway production (still playing at the St. James Theatre). I'm not sure Damn Yankees will have a life after Encores! but it's totally worth seeing now–just make sure you see it soon, it closes July 27th.
Damn Yankees takes place in the mid-'50s, when the Yankees were unbeatable. It's the story of Joe Boyd, a die-hard Washington Senators fan who sells his soul to the Devil (Hayes) for the chance to become a young baseball phenom who can win it all for the Senators. Turns out the Devil is untrustworthy (imagine!) and has some other bets which require the Yankees to beat the Senators. The Devil sics seductress Lola (Krakowski) on Joe to distract him from the game. But in the end all Joe wants is to be his old self (he misses his wife) and he ditches the young-ball-player-high-life to go back home. The plot isn't totally solid, but it makes for funny relationships and interesting characters. Add to it funky choreography from Bob Fosse and it's definitely respectable entertainment.
With Encores! attention to the preservation of the original production, this revival has moments that seem a bit outdated. But the actors inhabit their roles with seemingly acute attention to the campy potential of their characters. The performances are somewhat self-aware, and this makes the production seem more farcical and humorous. Any lagging or inconsistency in the script and direction is overcome by the performances (or at least it was for me).
Jane Krakowski is the perfect Lola: fiesty and seductive while maintaining a pin-up girl panache. Somewhat reminiscent of her character on 30 Rock, Krakowski embraces the role with an overly-confident charm. Sean Hayes is perfunctory as the Devil; he's pretty funny as the quirky manipulator and throws in some bit moments for extra laughs. But Hayes isn't a musical theatre guy and he really can't sing that well. However he is a concert pianist and he accompanies himself as he sings the Devil's big number...it's pretty cool. The rest of the cast is strong as well; there is a humor about these characters that is shared with the audience.
All-in-all Damn Yankees is a fun time at the theatre. You should absolutely check it out if musical theatre pleases you. The production is a throw-back to what musical theatre used to be, and there is an overall charm that goes along with it. Krakowski's performance is delightful and it's nice to see Hayes try something new.
(Damn Yankees plays through July 27: Tues. July 23rd at 7pm; Wed. July 24th at 8pm; Thurs. July 25th at 8pm; Fri. July 26th at 8pm; Sat. July 27th at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are available at 212.581.1212, $25-110. Visit citycenter.org for more info.)