National Award for Community Service in the Arts: Billy Ayers
written by Lenore Fedow
submitted by Claire Spinetti
For two weekends this spring, St. Mary’s Drama Guild transported audiences back to 1950’s Washington, D.C. with its reprisal of Damn Yankees. The musical is a modern retelling of Faust, the tragic play by German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in which a scholar sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge. In this baseball-themed adaptation, middle-aged real estate agent Joe Boyd trades his life to become Joe Hardy, a young baseball player with the skills to help the Washington Senators, his favorite baseball team, finally clinch a victory over the New York Yankees.
The devil comes in the form of Mr. Applegate, a well-dressed, smooth talker played brilliantly by Tara Gleason. Joe Boyd, played by Kerryclare Gleason, agrees to the deal, but with one caveat. If he wishes to return to his old life he would have to forfeit the Senators’ last game. Gleason’s rendition of “Goodbye, Old Girl” is a touching tribute to Boyd’s beloved wife, Meg, played by Alessandra Alejandro, who shined from the first scene.
The cunning Applegate convinces the Senators’ manager Van Buren, played by the hilarious Ashley Gleason, to let his client and new-found talent Joe Hardy, played by Landon Browne, join the team. As he’s a hit with the fans, reporter Gloria Thorpe, played by Katie Bagley, is suspicious of this out-of-the-blue talent and begins looking into his half-baked backstory.
Despite his overnight success, Hardy misses his wife and can’t stay away from his old neighborhood, and eventually attempts to move back home. Fearful of Hardy making use of the escape clause to return home, Applegate enlists the help of seductress Lola, played by Claire Spinetti. Spinetti, who also contributed the outstanding choreography, delivers back-to-back showstoppers with “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and the iconic “Whatever Lola Wants”.
After Hardy fires Lola as her seductions fall flat, Applegate leaks false information about Hardy secretly being “Shifty McCoy”, a minor league player on the run from Mexico, to reporter Gloria, who is fresh back from her trip to Hardy’s supposed hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, where no one has heard of him. Bagley shines in the following scene, a commanding presence and a force to be reckoned with as she details what she has uncovered about Hardy.
Hardy stands before the baseball commissioner, played by Jared Raso, and clears his name with the help of witnesses, including Meg and a few neighbors. Not to be undermined, Applegate plans for the Senators to lose their last game. He looks back fondly on his past misdeeds in song via “Those Were the Good Old Days”, a sass-heavy song performed expertly by Gleason. Lola, who has since fallen in love with Joe, drugs Applegate to prevent him from attending the final game, but only delays him. The Senators win the pennant despite Applegate’s meddling, but not before he turns Hardy back into Boyd at the last second.
Transformed back to his old self, Hardy runs from the ballpark and returns home to Meg where the two perform a beautiful encore of “A Man Doesn’t Know”. Applegate stands to the sideline as the pair sings, completely overshadowed. Unable to convince Boyd to change his mind, he exits the stage and leaves the two to finish their song.
The all-star cast is nominated for a number of awards from The Josephine Foundation and rightfully so. The show serves as a reminder of the importance of appreciating life and a living testament to the magic of theatre.