DAMN YANKEES at O’Connell in Kenmore and JOSEPH at Lancaster Opera are both delighted, but close tomorrow.
This happy month of May saw a resurgence in theatrical supply in Western New York, which was very exciting but turned the review process into a mad rush to be everywhere. I finally stepped out into the suburbs for offers from two venerable production houses, both revivals of famous musicals, both of which end this Sunday, May 15. So, apologies, because they are both very. very good and if you can you might want to venture to 3200 Elmwood Avenue in Kenmore to see O’Connell and Company’s DAMN YANKEES or, a bit further afield, to the Lancaster Opera House to see JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, also very, very good. In each, the conductors have loud voices, and in each, the men’s chorus numbers are as loud as the women’s.
Let’s talk about both, alternately, starting with JOSEPH at LOH.
JOSEPH’S BASICS: JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, directed by Fran Landis, runs through May 15 with remaining showings tonight Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow, Sunday, May 15 at 2:30 pm at the Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Avenue, Lancaster, NY 14086. 716.683.1776 visit lancasteropera.org Pro tip: Sit on the balcony for the best views. Duration: 70 minutes without intermission.
VIGNETTE SKETCH: It was the first effort from the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice which began as a 15-minute “pop cantata” in the early 1970s, and slowly grew following the success of their JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, eventually earning JOSEPH 10 Tony Award Nominations in 1982. Popular in high school and community theaters, it’s estimated to have been produced over 20,000 times since then. JOSEPH retells the biblical story of Jacob’s son Joseph and his 12 brothers, how others in a fit of jealousy sold Joseph into slavery, how his skill in interpreting dreams led him to become Pharaoh’s #2 guy and how he forgave his brothers and saved them from starvation. It’s packed with musical send-offs ranging from Country & Western to Gospel, Elvis, Petula Clark, French Ballads, Go-Go Music, Calypsod, Jazz (you might recognize “Take Five” by Dave Brubecks ). The lyrics, for the most part, are rhyming verses, which could get tedious, but the music carries them through.
DAMN YANKEES BASICS: DAMN YANKEES, the 1955 musical by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, directed by Joey Bucheker, presented by O’Connell & Co. also runs until May 15 with some “double headers” to their updated lineup. up to date. Remaining times are tonight Saturday, May 14 at 8:00 p.m. and tomorrow, Sunday, May 15 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on the OCC Main Stage 3200 Elmwood Avenue, Kenmore, NY 14217 Call 716.848.0800 or visit oconnellandcompany.com/ Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes
VIGNETTE SKETCH: Based on the novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” by Douglass Wallop (who co-wrote the musical book), the classic musical (1955) DAMN YANKEES won 7 Tony Awards, including “Best Musical” in 1956. This musical is a modern retelling of the Faust legend, updated to be the story of middle-aged baseball fanatic Joe Boyd who trades his soul with the devil (Mr. Applegate) and leaves his wife loyal Meg for a chance to lead her favorite team to victory in the pennant race against the New York Yankees as 22-year-old hitter Joe Hardy. He leads his losing Washington Senators to victory, but at what cost? Will Lola’s seductions forever damn him to hell?
Now back to JOSEPH and the PLAYERS, THE GAME AND THE PRODUCTION: Right from the start, the orchestra of musical director Fran Landis, larger than usual, delivered the performance. I complained about the last LOH show, but this 10-person set had perfect intonation, pacing and ensemble and I loved every minute of it. Jennifer Horton as the narrator has a beautiful, powerful voice and set the tone for others, but was matched by Sarah Blewett as “Mrs. Potiphar” (and ensemble roles). Joseph Ian Hayes had the “strong male lead” vibe, but all the men were good, and especially strong as a backing vocal.
It’s an updated version, stripped down, with a lot of contemporary humor. Two favorite moments: When Jacob’s brothers concoct the scheme to convince their father (Jacob) that Joseph has been mauled by animals in the desert, they decide to coat his many-colored coat with the blood of “a goat that pass”. Or, in the best tradition of the NY Times crossword editors, the blood of a passing (football) throwing GOAT. Who is it? Why, #12 himself, Tom Brady. Another favorite moment was the extended encore with quick repeats of all numbers. It was skillfully staged and the audience loved every minute, as did I.
Notes from Joseph:
DAMN YANKEES PLAYERS, PLAYING AND PRODUCTION: Well, it’s been hit and miss for O’Connell and Company for a while, but when they have a hit, it’s a home run. It was very energetic, with wonderful ensemble work and a very strong male choir and good soloists, the costumes, makeup and wigs were something special. And talk about quick changes! From hellish vampires to housewives in seconds, from baseball players to journalists in even less time, it was great fun.
DAMN YANKEES was conducted and choreographed (keeping many of Bob Fosse’s original moves) by Joey Bucheker, with musical direction by Stephen Piotrowski, and the offstage orchestra, like the Lancaster Opera Orchestra, was the best this season.
The cast includes the brilliant physical comedy of Kris Bartolomeo as Applegate (the devil), Aimée Walker as seductive Lola with lots of Fosse moves, Kevin Deese with a beautiful voice as Joe Hardy, Katy Miner with her ever-sweet soprano as Meg Boyd, Colleen Perky Pine as Gloria the Reporter, Michael J. Galante as Old Joe Boyd, Chris Riso as VanBuren, Kyle Baran as Rocky, and Daniel Lendzian as Smokey with Corey Bieber, Anthony Giambrone, Sára Kovácsi (out when I saw him), Sara Jo Kukulka, Kristen Marie Lopez, Jessie Miller, Julia Murphy, Vincent Murphy, Steven Ott, Daniel Pieffer, Leanna Pulinski, Michael Starzynski and Michael Wells. In short, a very successful assembly.
The production team includes Michael Morog – stage manager; Michele Marple – assistant stage manager; Matthew Myers – scenic designer; Sara Jo Kukulka – Costume designer; Connor Donnellon – lighting designer; and Bill Baldwin – technical director/master carpenter.
An interesting note from musical history: The original producers didn’t want to take a chance on newcomer Gwen Verdon to play “Lola,” but after Bob Fosse met her, he decided to take a chance. It was the start of a famously close five-decade collaboration. How far? They even got married in 1960. If you haven’t seen it last year, the limited “Fosse/Verdon” TV series starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams was excellent and is still available to stream.
Ranking the fucking Yankees:
*BUFFALO HERD (Notes on scoring system)
A BUFFALO: That means trouble. A terrible play, a very flawed production, or both. Unless there’s a really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you’re the parent of someone attending), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALO: Passable, but no major shaking. Either the production is quite off base or the part itself is problematic. Unless you’re the kind of person who just goes to the theater, you might be looking for something else.
THREE BUFFALO: I’m still having my issues, but it’s been a damn good night at the theater. If you don’t come in with huge expectations, you’ll probably be satisfied.
FOUR BUFFALOS: The production and the piece are of high caliber. If the genre/content is right for you, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALO: Truly superb – a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak from laughter, dramas that touch your heart. As long as it’s the kind of show you like, you’d be crazy to miss it!