The 18th season of musical theater at The Shedd kicks off Friday, July 12, with the opening of Damn Yankees — one of the oddest musical comedies in the American genre.
The show blends the hoary old legend of Faust with the all-American sport of baseball. The basic story is this: Depressed middle-age baseball fan Joe Boyd sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for getting the Washington Senators, at last, a winning season.
But, as with all Faustian deals, he gets more than he bargained for.
Richard Jessup directs and choreographs the show, which features Ward Fairbairn and Dylan Stasack as protagonist Joe Boyd and his youthful incarnation, Joe Hardy. Also in the cast are Ron Daum as Mr. Applegate, Lanny Mitchell as Van Buren, Cindy Kenny as the long suffering Meg Boyd and — in a last-minute swap — 16-year-old Kenady Conforth as Lola, the devil’s seductive assistant who’s assigned to make sure that Hardy stays in Hell. Conforth got the role after Caitlin Christopher had to drop out due to injuries.
The role of Lola — whose signature song is “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” — was originally played by dancer Gwen Verdon when Damn Yankees opened on Broadway in 1955; it was in that show that Verdon met choreographer Bob Fosse (if that name doesn’t ring any bells, watch Fosse’s fanciful 1979 autobiographical movie All That Jazz). Their lasting professional partnership and turbulent marriage would become part of American theater lore.
Jim Ralph, executive director at The Shedd, says Fosse naturally left a lot of creative fingerprints on Damn Yankees.
“If you know Fosse, you know it’s got Fosse elements,” Ralph says. “Right? You know, it’s within that tradition. But Richard [Jessup] does a good job of getting out away from that.”
Fosse’s work, Ralph says, tends to come across as cold, dark and heartless. “The thing that Richard has that Fosse doesn’t is, he has heart.”
Damn Yankees has heart as well. While it’s not side-splittingly funny, it does have a happy ending — unlike, say, the original Faust tale.
The new Shedd Theatricals season continues with productions of Annie, which runs Sept. 13-29, and She Loves Me, Dec. 6-22.
Annie, based on the popular comic strip Little Orphan Annie, will be directed by Ron Daum and will feature Lanny Mitchell as Daddy Warbucks, Shirley Andress as Grace Farrell, Lyn Burg as Miss Hannigan, Thomas Guastavino as Rooster, Sophia James as Lily and Larry Kenton as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
She Loves Me is based on the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie; it went on to inspire the story of the film You’ve Got Mail. Jessup will direct a cast that includes Shirley Andress and Cloud Pemble as Amalia and Georg, and Ron Daum as Zoltan Maraczek.
Robert Ashens is music director for all three shows.
Tickets and more information at TheShedd.org.