Scranton Shakespeare Festival Wins a Home Game

The last time I was at the PNC Field was for my friend's 13th birthday party. Her parents reserved a luxury box, which was decorated with streamers and balloons. I was much more interested in the cake than the game happening below. Earlier this month, I returned to my home field (which is the Triple-A affiliate to the New York Yankees) to see the Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s production of Damn Yankees! The show hit a home run in bringing theatregoers and sports fans together for a new—dare I say more exciting—spectacle on the baseball field.

Instead of the familiar stadium song to start a baseball game, the musical—penned by Richard Adler, Jerry Ross, Douglass Wallop, and George Abbott—began with a sweeping overture. The company of 24 performers descended down the seating area behind the coach’s first base box singing the opening number “Six Months Out of Every Year.” In it,  the women lament that their husbands spend half of the year following baseball, ignoring their household duties and marital responsibilities.

The biggest offender is Joe Boyd. A die-hard fan of the Washington Senators team, the aging Boyd (played by Michael Gilbert) spends the six-month baseball season glued to the television screen watching his losing team. “If only The Senators had a long ball hitter we could beat those damn Yankees!” he bemoans. A mysterious character then appears on the TV—aptly portrayed here on the JumboTron—to offer Boyd a deal. Mr. Applegate, played by the devilish Joe McGurl, gives Boyd the chance to transform into the savior that The Senators need—Joe Hardy, a young slugger for the team. The catch? If Boyd chooses to play in the final pennant game of the season, he will stay as Joe Hardy forever. Boyd, a canny real estate agent, requests an escape clause as part of the arrangement.

The team's newest player, played by the dreamy Timothy Michael Quinn, arouses curiosity in the town. Quinn's alluring singing voice and muscled physique surely added to Hardy's appeal, and bring hope to The Senators players who make up for their lack of skills with heart. Reporter Gloria Thorpe, played by Juliana Pillets, is skeptical of the newcomer. Pillets led the charge in the first of many catchy group numbers, belting out “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo."—her booming voice echoed up Montage Mountain. The mystery surrounding Joe Hardy and his cryptic background begin to unravel as Joe toggles between wanting to return to his wife at home and the temptations thrown at him by Applegate—including the lascivious Lola of the infamous tune "Whatever Lola Wants."

In perhaps the most exciting intermission ever, audience members retreated to the food stands for hot dogs, cheese steaks, and pints of beer. Act II began with The Senators spilling over the railing and onto the field for “The Game,” which was the crowd-winning song of the night. The uniformed players spun round, leaped over benches, and grapevined from first to second base—all while real-life ball players practiced in batting cages behind them at the other end of the field.

Director Michael Bradshaw Flynn successfully married the traditions of the sport to the athleticism of theatre in this production. The all-star cast stepped up to the plate with dance-heavy numbers choreographed by Matthew Lynady—all of which were perfected in the short span of a two-week rehearsal period. The character of Lola was played with great agility by Mollie Downes, who gracefully dropped into splits and maneuvered her fast feet on the ballfield dirt. The show's oddball number "Who's Got the Pain?" even found its place, showcasing the company's mambo dancing skills—even though the song does not further the plot. 

It comes as no surprise that Joe exercises the escape clause that he sets in place for himself, even though the musical's mirroring of Faust does keep the audience wondering if he'll sell his soul after all. But Joe returns home to his wife and his middle-aged existence as a real estate agent, happy as can be. The musical—which took home the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1956—surely has a pleasing ending. Even the toddlers seated in front of me were satisfied. 

The curtain call was marked with a sunset, and audience members made their way to the field's VIP lounge for a celebration of the season’s conclusion. Audible gasps and cheers filled the space as the 2018 summer season was announced. The excitement filled me with hope for my hometown. The sounds of the hummable song “Heart” drifted out of the stadium and followed me into the parking lot. It was thrilling—maybe this is how baseball fans feel leaving a victorious game.

 The cast of  Damn Yankees!  performing "The Game" at the PNC Field in Moosic, PA.

The cast of Damn Yankees! performing "The Game" at the PNC Field in Moosic, PA.