Company pitches in for regional premiere

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Performers are aiming for a grand slam as they get ready to launch the East Midlands premiere of a musical inspired by baseball.

Ripley and Alfreton Musical Theatre raise the curtain on their production of Damn Yankees next week, promising a show full of lively and colourful characters and equally bright song and dance numbers.

Seasoned choreographer Chris Parkes, who is also wearing the director’s hat, said: “It is a show which has heart and an extremely talented cast. There are about six or seven full dance numbers - it is a big show for dancers.”

Shades of Las Vegas in the form of six feather dancers will light up the production at Alfreton Grange Arts College. Chris said: “We are also bringing in waltzing girls to add a bit of sparkle.

“Sixteen children will be performing as cheerleaders, there will be a team of baseball players and a gymnast.”

Company stalwart Helen Hardy, from Swanwick, said: “I have never seen such a wonderful, youthful and enthusiastic company in 52 years of being a member.”

Helen is playing Miss Weston, the stage manager, and is part of the chorus in her 49th show with the company. She said: “Having a son, a daughter and a kidney stone kept me out of three shows.”

Set in America in the 1950s, Damn Yankees follows middle-aged baseball fan Joe Boyd, played by Richard Leivers from Chesterfield, who despairs of his baseball team’s losing run. When he threatens to sell his soul for a long ball hitter, the Devil appears in the guise of slick salesman Mr Applegate, played by Jim Fearn of Matlock. Mr Applegate offers the sports fan the opportunity to be transformed into baseball ace Joe Hardy, characterised by Andy Quinn of Heanor, But when Joe starts to miss his wife and the devil fears he is losing him, he throws temptation in his way in the shape of seductive Lola Banana, played by Rachel Clines from Nottingham. Joe is pitched into a battle of wills to rival his challenge of turning baseball no-hopers into a winning team.

Director Chris, 30, of South Normanton, said: “It is a musical about relationships....between a man and his wife, the devil and advocate, the coach and the baseball team.”

Requests for authentic props were made via word of mouth and social media sites, resulting in five cameras and a phone from the Fifties being loaned for the week of the show by a woman who lives in Somercotes.

The baseball team will be stepping out in outfits which were originally worn in the last production of the show in Stoke in 2001, coincidentally where next week’s show director Chris played the lead character.

One of the toughest challenges for the cast has been mastering the American accent. Chris added: “Derbyshire is a very difficult accent to overcome but all we can do is keep working on the American accent by changing the shape of the mouth. We are very focused on getting the accents right.”

He added: “It is very much a Derbyshire cast - we have performers from Matlock, Chesterfield, Alfreton and Ripley.”

Chris, who teaches musical theatre and ballet at Derby Academy, has gained support for this production from Nicola Hughes, who played Lola in the West End run of Damn Yankees in 1999.

The company has also received messages of support from renowned choreographer Stephen Mears and actor John Barr, who is currently playing Wilbur in Hairspray in Leicester.

Damn Yankees runs at Alfreton Grange Arts College from Monday, April 14, to Saturday, April 19 at 7.15pm each night with a matinee on the Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets £10 and £11, £8.50 and £9,50 (concessions Monday evening and Saturday matinee for OAPs and under 16s). To book, contact: tickets@ramtc.org