Evanston RoundTable, June 19, 2014
Light Opera Works kicked off its 34th season at Cahn Auditorium earlier this month with a rousing production of the 1955 classic musical “Damn Yankees.”
The show, about a Washington Senators’ fan who makes a deal with the devil to bring a baseball championship to the nation’s capital, featured terrific performances and a 33-piece live orchestra, conducted by Roger L. Bingaman, performing classic show tunes.
The cast was stellar, starting with the multi-talented Rudy Hogenmiller, the company’s Artistic Director, who is a triple threat treat as actor, dancer and singer. His vampy, campy turn as Mr. Applegate (aka Satan) brought to mind another droll Midwestern comedian, Jack Benny.
Kirk Swenk as Joe Boyd, the Faustian fan, and his athletic younger self, played by Brian Acker, were both excellent. Judy Knudtson brought a lovely touch of melancholy and forbearance to her role as Joe’s long-suffering wife. Eica Evans was suitably slinky as the devil’s assistant, Lola, and Jenny Lamb as the reporter Gloria Thorpe exuded great energy.
The ballplayers made a wonderful chorus. Singing, dancing, costumes and sets were first-rate, and the songs, including such classics as “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” and “You Gotta Have Heart” were knock-outs.
The original show, which won seven Tony awards including best musical in 1956, ran for more than a thousand performances on Broadway.
Bridget McDonough, Light Opera Works’ General Manager and co-founder, said the company originally focused on operettas, but started featuring more classic Broadway musicals about 15 years ago to satisfy public demand.
“We have a really good talent pool in Chicago, with many veterans as well as young actors just coming out of school, “she said. Light Opera Works’ alumni have gone on to perform at the Lyric Opera, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden and La Scala. “Many end up on Broadway,” she said.
“People in Evanston don’t realize what great musical theater is being produced right in our own backyard,” she added.
The season continues with “Fiddler on the Roof” Aug. 9-24, “Cole Porter’s Greatest Hits” Oct. 3-12 and “The Merry Widow” Dec. 19-31. Ticket information is available at lightoperaworks.org and 847-920-5360.