When Owen Smith and Michael LoPorto put their heads together to come up with a show for Park Playhouse’s 30th season, “Damn Yankees” seemed like a pretty good choice.
However, upon closer inspection of the 1955 Broadway classic, the two men realized they had one pretty substantial issue to deal with.
“It’s a great Broadway musical, but it also has some sexist overtones in it,” said Smith, artistic producing director for Park Playhouse. “With the metoo movement and all the attention on gender politics and how folks are interacting in the workplace, we realized we were doing a play that touches upon a lot of things in the public discourse today.”
“After we got into it, we realized it was quite a sexist play,” said LoPorto, who has spent 15 summers directing Park Playhouse productions in Albany’s Washington Park, including the last nine years in a row. “It was a play of its time, written in the 1950s, and it smacks of the world we’re living in today. It became apparent we were going to have to find a way to get into the play and not hide the sexism, but to highlight it and explore it objectively. We wanted to find the journey of the women in the play, and that whole process has been really fun. It became a cool challenge to take this classic and work on it in that way,”
The musical begins with previews on Friday and officially opens next Tuesday, July 3. Performances begin at 8 p.m. every Tuesday through Saturday, and the show runs through July 28.
“Damn Yankees” is based on the novel, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” by Douglass Wallop. Wallop got his idea from the legend of Faust, a 15th Century German story about a man who makes a deal with the devil. George Abbott collaborated with Wallop to write the book for the musical, and Richard Adler and Jerry Ross provided the music and lyrics. The show made its Broadway debut in 1955 and ran for 1,019 performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical.
The story centers around Joe and Meg Boyd, whose love for one another is put to the test when Joe makes a deal with the devil to become a young and successful baseball player. Set in Washington, D.C., home to the Washington Senators baseball team in the 1950s, Joe becomes Joe Hardy and joins his beloved Senators with the goal of turning the perennial losers into winners.
Tim Nelson, Park Playhouse’s resident musical director, will play Joe Boyd while Sandra Bargman will portray his wife, Meg. In the 1995 edition of “Damn Yankees” put on by Park Playhouse, Nelson played Joe Hardy and Bargman was Lola, the Senators’ team secretary. Playing the two younger roles this time around will be Devin Cortez as Joe Hardy and Emma Pittman as Lola.
Nelson lives in California where he is Musical Theatre Chair at Huntington Beach High School’s Academy for the Performing Arts in Southern California and managing director of the Rose Center Theater of Orange County. He has spent his summers in Albany with Park Playhouse since 1990.
“I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for TIm,” said Smith. “I was here as a student in 1990, and he was one of the most encouraging teachers I ever had. If it wasn’t for someone like him, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”
Nelson was also at Park Playhouse in 1999 when LoPorto began his long summer connection to Albany by serving as assistant director on “Gypsy.”
“Tom was here, and he and several other talented, wonderful people were here, and that’s why I keep coming back,” said LoPorto, who works as an academic advisor at Brooklyn College during the school year and does a variety of theater-related activities in New York City. “I love the people I work with here, like choreographer Ashley-Simone Kirchner and music director Brian Axford. They look at things from a real creative standpoint, and we all love the idea of bringing free theater to a venue like this, where people who maybe usually wouldn’t get an opportunity to see this kind of production.”
Axford and Kirchner worked with Smith and LoPorto last summer to produce Park Playhouse’s stellar twinbill, “Chicago” and “Ragtime.” Albany High graduate Timothy Clow is doing the set design, and Park Playhouse newcomer Tatyana Hillsman is the costume designer.
A week after “Damn Yankees” closes, Nelson will direct a Park Playhouse II production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” scheduled for Aug. 3-18. Park Playhouse will conclude its outdoor summer season Aug. 21-25 with a Park Playhouse Kids production of “James and the Giant Peach,” directed by Rich Johnson.
WHAT: A production of Park Playhouse
WHERE: The Lakehouse, Washington Park, Albany
WHEN: Previews begin Friday; Opens Tuesday, July 3 and runs through July 28; performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free; reserved tickets range from $25-$18
MORE INFO: Visit www.parkplayhouse.com or call (518) 434-0776