Devilish actress best reason to see Super Summer Theatre’s ‘Yankees’

There are several good reasons to see Super Summer Theatre/Signature Productions’ “Damn Yankees,” but perhaps none better than Traci Kesisian.

In this 1950s musical spin on the Faust legend set in the world of baseball, Kesisian purrs her way through the role of Lola, a seemingly heartless seductress working on staff for the devil. When she sings the standard, “What Lola Wants, Lola Gets,” you know Kesisian ain’t kidding. Her sensually domineering presence, combined with her killer belt and no-nonsense acting, make it easy to fall in love with her. For all the evil she does, Kesisian comes across as a very nice lady.

Director Steve Huntsman’s production establishes an irresistibly light tone from the start. He infuses this tale of a middle-aged man (Glenn Heath) making a pact with the devil (Kevin Dotson) to become a young, legendary baseball player (Brandon Nix) with the giddiness it needs. He gets considerable help from Olivia Goode as a humorously aggressive reporter and Anita Bean as a nerdy yokel who seems like someone who’s just stepped out of a Carol Burnett skit.

The evening’s major strength, apart from whenever Kesisian is onstage, is in the singing. Moments that start out ordinary are made memorable. Among them: when Nix and Heath vocalize their love for “their” wife (the Snow White lookalike Jennifer Bacigalupi), or when Dotson musically recounts some of his great conquests of the world’s nastiest villains, or when the Washington Senators’ baseball team — in a locker room, with three men taking an onstage shower — remind us that “You Gotta Have Heart.” Some of the Richard Adler/Jerry Ross numbers (the score is one of Broadway’s best) have reprises that go on so long and happily that they force you to cheer.

Things are occasionally held back by a too-broad playing style. Even with scripts like this that demand broad-playing, there is such a thing as too much. Huntsman directs some actors with too heavy a hand. His costumes over-comment on the characters. And Evan Litt’s choreography is sometimes on the border of clever, but never quite escapes the bland.

It’s fun, though, to watch Steve Paladie’s set pieces slide around and up and below the stage. And Jay LeDane’s lights lend a welcome sense of spectacle. You go home remembering not just the songs and Kesisian, but the visuals as well. There’s so much talent in evidence that you wish the show was a tad better than it is.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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