The Paper Mill Playhouse presents an enjoyable production of the timeless 1955 musical comedy set in the world of professional baseball.
Joe Boyd (Joseph Kolinski), a middle-aged, diehard Washington Senators fan, one night exclaims to the sky that he would sell his soul in exchange for a long-ball hitter who could save the team. Suddenly, the devil, here known as Mr. Applegate (Howard McGillin), magically materializes and offers him the chance to turn into a 22-year-old baseball star -- Joe Hardy (Christopher Charles Wood) -- in exchange for his soul.
Fearful that Joe, who shows signs of being homesick and missing his faithful wife Meg (Patti Cohenour), will exercise an escape clause and get out of the deal, Applegate sends for Lola (Chryssie Whitehead), his number one seductress. When even her efforts fail, Applegate cooks up a rumor that Joe is in reality a former Mexican league player who took a bribe, forcing him to have to clear his name.
It was a brave move on Hoebee's part to not use Bob Fosse's original choreography, and Denis Jones mostly succeeds in putting his own stamp on the material. Although "Who's Got the Pain?" is an utter mess, with Lola backed awkwardly by four chorus boys, "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo" is a pure showstopper, with the baseball players doing back-flips and using their bats as canes while tap dancing. Nancy Anderson, who is excellent as cynical reporter Gloria Thorpe, is also integrated into the choreography for the number.
Hoebee also deserves credit for his smart staging of the key moments of transformation when Joe Boyd turns into Joe Hardy and vice versa. Here, we see Boyd walk through a standalone doorway and instantly emerge as Joe Hardy. Later on, after catching a winning ball, Hardy is lifted in the air in celebration by his teammates two times, and then pops up as Joe Boyd the third time.
McGillin makes for a booming, confident Applegate, who is full of pizzazz and looks dapper in a black suit with red stripes. While Applegate is hardly a vocally challenging role, McGillin performs his comedic solo "Those Were the Good Old Days" as if it were an old-fashioned vaudevillian turn.
Wood brings unexpected dimension and emotionality to the straight-laced role of Hardy. He also unleashes a soaring, operatic tenor voice and shows off much of his muscular body during a dugout scene. Cohenour brings depth to Meg and Kolinski successfully presents Boyd as an overgrown child. Ray DeMattis is also wonderfully expressive as Coach Van Buren.