I went with low expectations because the production's gotten polite reviews from the critics, with the main reason being that the show hasn't been brought up to date. [I wonder why they don't complain that the Magic Flute or Götterdämmerung are old and haven't been brought up to date. ]
The production was done straight and, as far as I could tell, hewed closely to the original in plot, style, and orchestrations [it does have an odd logo for All American Boy Baseball]. Whenever I've seen this show before or played the record, I've always been bothered by the husband just walking out and leaving a note which doesn't even say he will be back in September. This is the first production in which I noticed that when he went to rent a room in his wife's house, he "found" an envelope of money in a drawer that he passed on to his wife. This at least mitigates her financial problems but not her emotional one.
As is always the case in Arena, there was a contest between the awkward auditorium and the production. There were the usual problems /solutions of actors having to turn 180 degrees every so often to be intelligible to all the audience and scenery and props having to be rotated and brought in from the audience. but in this case the production won.
The singing voices were amplified with a clumsy transition from speaking to singing and the orchestra, hidden down under, was not muffled but had a smooth unnatural shallowness from its amplification. I suppose I'm probably the only person left in Washington who notices the miking in musicals and is irritated by it.
The wife and Old Joe - a small role - were well done in both singing and acting; Applegate / Mephistopheles was played as a vulgar loud mouth which pleased the crowd; Lola was extremely beautiful in face and form, with a lithe dancer's body. Her singing was good and her dancing probably was great [just walking you could see she was a dancer] except there was so little for her to do.
The show's choreography was either uninspired or else the choreographer knew she didn't have true dancers to work with, so most of the dance for the ensemble was good workman-like. Even in Whatever Lola Wants and Two Lost Souls, Lola's routine was not that sophisticated. She did have to partner with the non-dancer Young Joe in one of them, which might be an explanation for the not so sophisticated choreography.
Young Joe was fine for the role in acting and range of his voice. His singing style was noticeable as the only obviously different/updated/non-traditional element in the production.
One thing is that he had some [ by my taste too much ] melisma - I've finally learned the word for this terrible singing trait. The other thing I can't describe well because I don't know music and music terminology. In a New York revival of the show in the 1990s, Young Joe played by Jarrod Emick? Emick Jarrod? had the same singing trait.
It's a somewhat [ = very slight] nasal and "something" quality in the singing. The sort of thing you hear in Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, but which isn't the traditional Broadway singing styles of the 1930s to 1960s. I'd call it mannered but that is too negative a word; it's something like a style trying to show the words are deep and significant, and that's not appropriate for a show like Damn Yankees.
The ensemble was good to very good except in dancing, where some of them were actually awkward and clumsy.
Taking into account Arena's awkward set up limiting scenery, the scenery, props and costuming fit the show's period.
As far as I could tell, the original dialogue was used [but was Kansas City in the majors in the 1950s?] with the exception of a line when a cop was arresting a fan and she said "Are you a Republican?" The line was set up well, delivered perfectly -- and got very little response, polite titters. Maybe it was just the performance that particular night but maybe it's also possible audiences are getting tired of being manipulated by the ideology of shows' directors.
There was a Chevy Chase Senators Fan Club made up of grammar school students from the area schools in the You've Gotta Have Heart reprise. According to the program they were non-professional and between the ages of 8 and 12. What I noticed was that the boys looked like boys brought in off the street and trained in a simple routine, while the girls looked "on" and hammy and much more mature than the boys.
The performance wasn't sold out [I had gotten a $60 ticket at "half" price of $42 with fees] but it was a good audience. The proportion of old people was noticeably lower than in the usual things I see.
I'm glad I saw the production and would recommend it to others, but it did miss having spark, bang, excitement.
Usually I go to Arena as a patron on Sunday nights and used to volunteer as an usher on Saturday afternoons and haven't had the least problem parking; often right next to the theater on Maine Avenue.
But this Friday night every parking space was jammed, maybe from the 3 or 4 mega-restaurants on the waterfront. It struck me walking after the show to my car parked under the Eisenhower Expressway, that after 35 years of going to Arena in Southwest I still leave SW as fast as possible and get to Northwest where there are normal restaurants and cafes and people and life.
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