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Thursday, May 7, 2009

By the Boards: Dennis Brown on the STL Theater Scene May 7-10

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2009 at 7:00 AM

After the deep darkness that has pervaded area theaters during the past few weeks -- most notably with heavyweight dramas by Brecht, Büchner and Kafka -- the first lilting notes of an impending musical summer can be heard. This weekend (through May 9) the Kirkwood Theatre Guild concludes its production of Damn Yankees.

  • Kirkwood Theatre Guild
When it made its debut in 1955, Damn Yankees was only the second show from neophyte producer Hal Prince, who would emerge as the most prolific producer-director in the American theater. Prince's first show, which opened a year earlier, was The Pajama Game. Both musicals were based on unlikely subjects -- a labor union strike in The Pajama Game, the Faust legend applied to baseball in Damn Yankees -- yet they both ran for more than a thousand performances.

Prince has said that The Pajama Game is the better show. But I'd rather own a piece of Damn Yankees. Here in St. Louis alone, it has in recent years been staged constantly. The 2002 production at the Black Rep was a knockout. As the sultry Lola, the sensuous McKenzie Frye was jaw-dropping. And Keith Tyrone was great as fun Mr. Applegate, the Devil.

There's a long tradition of beguiling Applegates, beginning with Ray Walston, who created the role. His twinkling wryness set the standard. Then, in what turned out to be a piece of casting genius -- at least as far as the box office was concerned -- the 1994 Broadway revival replaced its original devil, Victor Garber, with Jerry Lewis in his Broadway debut. If it was a casting stunt, it was a stunt that worked. This weekend if you see Kent Coffel in the role in Kirkwood, when the Devil sings his big song, "Those Were the Good Old Days," it's well to remember that the days of tuneful musicals like Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game were very good indeed.

* * *

Jim Dolan has found a successful formula for his cabaret lineup at the Kranzberg Arts Center. Rather than relying solely on outside artists many of us have never heard of, Dolan has begun to showcase the talents of admired local performers.

This new ploy seems to be working, because the place is often packed. This Saturday, May 9, Kay Love reprises her solo show that sold out in its debut last month. Love is always an appealing presence onstage. (I retain fond memories of her performances at the Curtain Call Theatre in Faust Park, where you could see a musical and ride a carousel, all on the same nickel.)

For her cabaret act, Love is working with music director Neal Richardson, who is always creative and supportive. With a name like "Love," don't expect an evening that skews too dark.

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