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Energetic Cast Conquers 'Damn Yankees'

Marta McKeown, a student at Washington International School reviews Walt Whitman's "Damn Yankees."

Walt Whitman High School's Noah Gavil, left, Mark Herschfeld and Ben Laboy sing "Heart." (By Marcus De Paula)

In everything you do, you gotta have heart, and Walt Whitman High School's production of "Damn Yankees" proved that this group of high schoolers has got it in spades, along with a little bit of brains and a whole lot of talent.

"Damn Yankees," set in Washington, is a 1950s-style Faustian parable told through baseball, that all-American pastime. With the music and lyrics of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the show tells the story of devoted Senators fan Joe Boyd, whose only wish is that his team will win the pennant just this once and beat the Yankees.

The devil, disguised as the sophisticated Mr. Applegate, appears to Joe and makes him an offer he can't refuse: To transform Joe into the long ball hitter his beloved team needs. He accepts, becoming baseball wunderkind Joe Hardy, but soon learns that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be.

As the winners of last year's Cappie award for musical, the Whitman cast faced high expectations, and "Damn Yankees" did not disappoint. Showcasing remarkable energy at all times, it was evident that even the most minor ensemble member had a unique and fully developed character to portray. Wonderfully executed harmonies abounded, even as the actors tackled intricate choreography devised by student Sarah Blush and took the audience on an emotional journey with each character's change through the course of the show.

Sammy Zeisel as Joe Hardy masterfully displayed a blend of contagious enthusiasm and surprising emotional depth. His song "A Man Doesn't Know" was one of the most touching moments of the night.

Andy Berry's Applegate, with a malicious cackle and debonair demeanor, was the suavest Satan ever. It was a pity he had only one chance to sing because his strong baritone was a delight.

Lily Maroni as the sultry lost soul Lola didn't allow her lack of clothing to distract from her excellent vocals and skillful dancing. She also showed remarkable emotional complexity as her character fell in love and turned away from her manipulative ways.

Leah Chiaverini as Meg, the wife Joe leaves behind, used her considerable vocal talent to bring poignancy to every song she sang. Her lovable manner made it easy to understand why Joe chose to return home.

Each member of the baseball team had a distinct personality. The comic trio of dopey Smokey (Noah Gavil), lisping Rocky (Mark Herschfeld) and motherly Sohovik (Solomon Parker) worked well together, using physical comedy, dancing and excellent harmonies to get laughs.

The Walt Whitman pit orchestra handled the demanding score extremely well, highlighting the singers without ever overpowering them. The amazing special effects designed and executed by Sara Carbonneau and Jason Austria were appropriately shocking and well-timed. Scene changes were smooth and nearly invisible, with well-timed lighting cues, a tech crew that really worked together and the creative addition of commercials written and performed by students.

The "Damn Yankees" production was a good time, full of high energy, astonishing innovation, unbelievable talent and, most of all, heart.

By Washington Post Editors  |  December 30, 2008; 10:52 AM ET
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