Following the enormous success of last season's award winning Gypsy (that moved on to Broadway) the second annual Encores! Summer Stars production re-visits the 1955 Tony tuner Damn Yankees. The musical still boasts a lot of heart, thanks to the appealing score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop, in which the devil, with the seductive assist of his handmaiden, transform an old timer into a virile young Washington Senators ballplayer, still resonates with a great sense of fun and fancy.
Making his New York theatrical debut, Sean Hayes takes on the role of Mr. Applegate, the devil incarnate, who turns the aging baseball fan into a youthful champion. Hayes, best known for his role on television's Will and Grace, is an amiable sly fox, but fails to invest the role with comic cunning. While he is careful to avoid the broad mugging of Phil Silvers, who appeared in the 1967 telecast, or that of Jerry Lewis, who starred in the 1995 Broadway revival, he doesn't capture the wonderful droll wit or cunning charm of Ray Walston who created the role in the original Broadway production and subsequent film.
Hayes simply goes through the motions, rather than reveal the impish mischievous of the role. The most grievous choice made by the actor, or perhaps the director, is to be found in that inspired second act solo turn, Those Were the Good Old Days. Mr. Hayes. it appears, is an accomplished pianist, so we find Applegate seated at a sprawling grand, accompanying himself through the laundry list of evildoers. The humorous roll call of such legendary monsters as Julius Caesar and Nero lose their ominous thrust and the brilliant lyrics are sidetracked by the pianistics. The vaudeville spirit of the song is diminished.
Jane Krakowski is an alluring Lola, who brings her own heat wave to summer theater-going. As the devil's advocate, she offers a sweet and sizzling turn. In the locker room seduction Whatever Lola Wants, Krakowski is appealingly torrid and teasing, and in the recreation of the original Bob Fosse choreography for Two Lost Souls, she displays captivating leggy zest. Krakowski is decidedly more bubbly than sultry and she brings a sunny disposition to the timeless vamp.
If the humor of the piece doesn't always successfully surface, the romantic elements are beautifully realized. Randy Graff as the long suffering wife, P.J. Benjamin as the aging fan, and Cheyenne Jackson as the home run hitter, Joe Hardy, give the musical its true heart and fervor. A Man Doesn't Know and Near To You are gorgeously realized duets as sung by Graff and Jackson, and the transformation of old Joe to young Joe in the song Goodbye, Old Girl remains one of the most thrilling moments in musical theater history.
Less successful is Megan Lawrence as Gloria Thorpe, who misses the dash and urgency of a sports reporter. But all is forgiven when the players sing the dugout anthem Heart.