Stage preview: Pittsburgh CLO takes on the devilish 'Damn Yankees'
July 3, 2016 12:00 AM
Stage and screen actor John Bolton, who starred as The Old Man in Broadway's "A Christmas Story," comes to Pittsburgh CLO for the first time in "Damn Yankees."
Sarrah Strimel returns to Pittsburgh CLO as Lola in "Damn Yanees" after playing Brooke for the company in "Legally Blonde"
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pirates fans may be getting antsy, rooting for a team that was last in the World Series when Pittsburgh won it all in 1979. But would even the most fanatic true-blue black-and-gold fan sell his soul for the next championship?
The 1955 musical “Damn Yankees” presents just such a solution to frustrated fan Joe Hardy, whose Washington Senators are wallowing in last place.
A pair of actors fresh off Broadway stages will be after Hardy’s soul for the Pittsburgh CLO production of “Damn Yankees” that opens Tuesday at the Benedum Center.
Where: Pittsburgh CLO at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: July 5-10. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $25.75-$75.75; pittsburghclo.org or 412-456-6666
John Bolton (“Dames at Sea” and the upcoming “Anastasia” on Broadway) plays Devil in disguise Applegate, and Sarrah Strimel (“An American in Paris”) is seductress Lola, who is drafted to make sure Joe plays ball with the Devil — and as we all know, “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”
Mr. Bolton began his Broadway career as a replacement baseball player in the 1995 revival of “Damn Yankees,” with Tony-nominated choreography by Rob Marshall. Victor Garber originated the role of Applegate in that production and was later replaced with Jerry Lewis, making his Broadway debut at age 69.
“This is bringing back great memories of doing Rob Marshall’s wonderful choreography and of being young and making my debut with such a wonderful company,” Mr. Bolton said by phone last week. “Getting to learn from watching Victor Garber and Bebe Neuwirth and then of course, getting to work with Jerry Lewis. It was such a warm and exciting time in my life.”
For Mr. Bolton, playing the Devil is an unexpected delight, with memories of his former co-stars and the 1955 original, Ray Walston, peppering his brain.
The actor and director Charles Repole “will find the perfect buffet of all these performances and add some of myself, too,” he said.
“This guy Applegate is not so much the guy in the red suit with the forked tail but he’s that underneath.” the actor said. “He’s got the salesman suit on and is quite slick. Finding those moments to remind the audience of who I am is a lot of fun.”
He has never met his Lola, but said he can’t wait until they “dive into this together.”
Ms. Strimel, a North Allegheny High School and Pittsburgh CLO alumna, and Mr. Bolton had somehow missed bumping into each other despite their extensive Broadway backgrounds. Mr. Bolton also has ties to Pittsburgh — he said his relatives from Mars, Pa., will be well represented in the Benedum audience.
Ms. Strimel recently left the ensemble in “An American in Paris” to get a life, she said. She has been working steadily on Broadway and focusing equally on teaching yoga at Modo Yoga NYC. She was speaking by phone at around 3 in the afternoon, and had taught three classes that day.
“In May, it started to feel like it was time to make a shift,” she said, “I’m 34, I’m single, so not a lot of time to date when you work all the time. I felt like it was time to break away from the eight-show-a-week Broadway schedule. Everyone asked, ‘What are you leaving for?’ and I said, ‘Life.’
“That seemed kind of crazy to some people,” she continued, “but almost 12 years now I’ve been on a Broadway schedule pretty steadily and I wanted to also start playing character roles, and the minute I decided to leave the show, Lola came up. So it was kind of lovely timing — the universe will reward you when you make bold choices.”
The role was on Ms. Strimel’s short list of coveted parts — “Basically, all Gwen Verdon’s roles. Let me just do those!” she said. Lola plays to her strengths as a dancer and her desire to dive into a complex character.
Most people who know something but not everything about “Damn Yankees” think “sexy” when they think of Lola and forget that she develops a soft spot for Joe
“Very near the end of the first act she has shifted,” Ms. Strimel said. “She really has only two scenes where she’s dead set on the seduction — the ‘vampire treatment’ as they call it in the script. She becomes very vulnerable and very caring.”
The home base of “Damn Yankees” is the the novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” by Douglass Wallop, who helped develop the story as a musical with George Abbott, Jerry Ross and Richard Adler. The story takes the Faustian plot device and plays to a classic sports belief: You hate the Yankees’ dynastic tendencies if your team plays against them or disdain the haters if you’re a Yankees fan.
Mr. Bolton, 50, a native of Rochester, N.Y. — home of the Baltimore Orioles top farm team — grew up an Orioles fan. When he moved to the city, he became a Mets fan.
“Most years, it’s a little too easy to be a Yankees fan, especially in the late ‘90s and 2000s, when you couldn’t stop them,” he said. “I looked around me at the Mets’ stadium and said, ‘These people have, well, heart. It takes guts to be a fan.’ This is something Pittsburgh fans can perhaps relate to, to stand by your team, especially when they are not the sure bet.”
The actor pointed out that the musical’s best-known song, “(You Gotta Have) Heart,” is still played at some ballparks to nudge the home team when it’s down, just one sign that “Damn Yankees’” appeal still makes sense to baseball fans six decades after it first appeared onstage.
On his visits to his family in Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs, when he often was whisked to eateries such as Eat ‘n Park and Primanti Bros., Mr. Bolton couldn’t help but notice the distinct black-and-gold motif.
“Everyone’s got a Steelers’ cap on or a Pirates’ shirt,” he marveled. “Grandmas! Everybody!”
Sharon Eberson; firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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