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On Stage: James Dean, the Devil & the Yankees

Jason Graae is "Mr. Applegate" and Lindsay Roginski is Lola in "Damn Yankees." Photo by Kevin Graft

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy the Music Circus production of “Damn Yankees” and you don’t have to be a fan of James Dean to visit the Errant Phoenix Production‘s dime store of “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” A little knowledge about the two might add to the enjoyment/entertainment of the shows, but you can go in cold and come out warmed.

“Damn Yankees,” which plays at the Music Circus through Sunday, is a classic Broadway musical that tells the story of a middle-aged baseball fanatic who makes a deal with the devil to help his beloved Washington Senators win the World Series pennant over the New York Yankees.

Real estate salesman Joe Boyd (the affable Jeff Howell) strikes a bargain with “Mr. Applegate” (the devilish Jason Graae) to get the pennant for the Senators. Smokin’ Mr. Applegate (the special effects for his appearance are impressive) turns middle-aged Joe Boyd into 22-year-old phenom Joe Hardy (striking Zack Trimmer, who has a remarkable voice) and starts the Senators on course for a baseball victory of impossible proportions.  Boyd was smart enough to get an escape clause in his contract with the devil, but the ruler of the Bad Place has no intention of losing this bargain.

“Damn Yankees” features music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. It isn’t packed with memorable music, but two songs — “Whatever Lola Wants” and “(You Gotta Have) Heart” — are certainly well known. As Lola, Lindsay Roginski  is one hot property, and the ball players (a fine-looking ensemble of young men) give their all in “Heart.” Two other songs, though less known, are excellent: “Two Lost Souls,” sung by Roginski and Trimmer; and “A Man Doesn’t Know,” sung in the first act by Lynne Wintersteller (as Meg Boyd) and Trimmer (as Joe Hardy and reprised in the second act by Wintersteller and Howell.

“Damn Yankees” is performed through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $45-$89. Music Circus is at 1419 H St. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 557-1999 or go to SacramentoMusicCircus.com.

A Town Without Pity

For a comedy, which it is, “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dead, Jimmy Dead” has a lot of depth. Its story of a group of friends who return to the small West Texas town of McCarthy, near where actor James Dean filmed “Giant,” for the 20th anniversary reunion of their fan club, illustrates the devastating effects of ignorance, hate and bigotry upon those who hate and those who are hated.

The hurt remains for Joe (Chris Jensen) even 20 years after the misunderstood and abused teenager, fled in shame and fear.

McCarthy is a dying, dried-up town where residents’ prayers for rain have gone unanswered. The landscape reflects the inhospitable nature of the town and its residents.

The play was written by Ed Graczyk in the mid-1970s. Ahead of its time then, it is perfectly timely these days. Secret vices, organized violence, prejudice, adolescent experimentation, sexual awakening, ambivalence and gender identity all play a part in the plot.

Juanita (Shirley Sayers) still runs the diner that she and her late husband have had all these years. She is a Christian with the kind of unforgiving heart too often found in people in small towns such as this. She is outwardly accepting of the returning visitors (also including Jamine La Forge as Stella Mae and Nicole Schallig as Edna Louise) and suspicious of Joanne (Michelle Champoux), a fan club member no one seems to recall.

John Ewing directs the play with a dedication to detail that is not always seen in local productions. The action takes place on two specific dates, Sept. 30, 1955 and Sept. 30,1975 in the same soda shop/diner. Two main characters, Mona and Sissy, are portrayed by two actors at different ages. Deni Scofield plays the 1975 Mona and Katie Peters plays the ’50s version; Toody Lawrence is Sissy now and Tylar Traum is Sissy then.

Ewing’s attention to detail extends past changes in lighting for the two eras to an overhead fan that stirs the air in the 1950s but hangs motionless in 1975, as dead and useless as the town.

“Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” is presented at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through Aug. 20, at Mesa Verde Performing Arts Center, 7501 Carriage Drive, Citrus Heights. Tickets are $17-$20 and are available online at ErrantPhoenix.com or at the door.


On Stage: James Dean, the Devil & the Yankees via @sacramentopress

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