Interview: Hans Altwies is the Devil in 5th Avenue's ‘Damn Yankees'

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Next up at the 5th Avenue Theatre is Damn Yankees, a perfect show for Spring, since it’s about baseball. People get feverish about baseball, and the plot has an aging baseball fan want his Yankees to win a pennant race so badly that he makes a deal with the Devil (Mr. Applegate)!

Hans Altwies, a veteran Seattle actor from many, many productions on stages such as Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre and Seattle Shakespeare Company and co-artistic director of New Century Theatre Company, has never been seen in a main stage musical in Seattle, the entire time he’s been calling Seattle home. Well, except for SCT’s Peter and the Wolf in 2005. Yet, here he is taking on the crunchy role of Mr. Applegate in Damn Yankees.

Unbeknownst even to probably many of his friends, Hans started out in theater by performing first in musicals. After growing up in Detroit, he and his family moved to Hawaii for his high school years. There, Hans reports, “I was accidentally in a room with a friend who was auditioning for a musical and (now local actor/director) Tony Curry was the drama teacher and he asked me to sing a song. He played me that song and I sang it. And he cast me in Do Black Patent Shoes Really Reflect Up. I was hooked.”

Musicals led to ballet! “It was around that time that the dance teacher said I should start learning dance. And I started dancing ballet from age 16 to 26 in Hawaii with a couple of small companies there. When I came to Cornish (School of Drama) for acting school, I’d go back to dance in Hawaii.”

Hans’ desire to come to Cornish came about when he met another Seattle acting legend, Clayton Corzatte, who directed him in a Hawaii production. Clay was a teacher at Cornish and encouraged Hans to come for acting training. “By the time I was a senior at Cornish, Clay had stopped teaching, so I never got to take class with the person who influenced me to come here,” Hans remembers.

Hans is “having a blast” doing a musical again. “I’m reconverted. 30 people in a room every day and they’re all talented, such beautiful voices, and all that dancing. Applegate gets to do a vaudeville song, ‘Those Were the Good Ol’ Days’, straight out to the audience, and it’s written for a non-singer. It’s a particularly attractive musical for men because it has baseball and it’s great music. I fell in love with the music and it just gets better and better. It’s complex and beautiful and runs the gamut from vaudeville to ballad.”

This production is billed as a co-production with Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, though only a very few actors have come here to repeat the show. The creative team includes direction by Mark S. Hoebee (Paper Mill’s Producing Artistic Director), music direction by Ben Whiteley, and choreography by Denis Michael Jones. Christopher Charles Wood as Young Joe Hardy and Chryssie Whitehead as the seductive Lola were part of the critically-raved-about production.

Major roles are filled by Hugh Hastings as aging baseball enthusiast Joe Boyd, Patti Cohenour as the baseball widow Meg Boyd, Allen Fitzpatrick as Coach Benny Van Buren, and Nancy Anderson as Gloria Thorpe, ace reporter. Other Seattle favorites including Carol Swarbrick as Sister, Julie Briskman as Doris, Richard Ziman as Mr. Welch, Bob De Dea as the Commissioner, and Beth DeVries as Miss Weston.

Damn Yankees plays April 21 – May 20, 2012. For ticket information, go to www.5thavenue.org or call 206-625-1900.

Hans is having fun “doing what he (Applegate) gets to do. I am enjoying all the mayhem I get to cause.”

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