Heartfelt Damn Yankees at Goodspeed Opera House
By Amy J. Barry
“You’ve Got to Have Heart” may be the most memorable tune to have come out of the 1950s musical Damn Yankees, heartily reprised throughout the Goodspeed production, but there are many more reasons this version of the show hits a home run.
The original musical with words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross was based on the novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” -- to the Washington Senators. Joe DiPietro created a new version in 2006 for the North Shore Music Theatre just outside Boston, replacing the Senators with the Sox. This local audience pleasing adaptation is the one being presented at the Goodspeed.
Damn Yankees is as much a tender story about winning and losing in love as it is a powerhouse tale about winning and losing in baseball. Joe Boyd (James Judy) is a Sox fanatic who pays little attention to his wife Meg (Ann Arvia) because he’s so caught up in watching the game on TV and yelling at the team to break a 10-year losing streak against the Yankees in the World Series.
Joe seals a deal with the devil disguised as Applegate (David Beach). A salesman, like Joe, Applegate’s connection to the underworld is only given away by his red tie and amusing allusions to his true identity. The deal is that Applegate will return Joe to his younger, 20-something self with spectacular batting abilities to win the Pennant for his team. Applegate agrees to an escape clause that would allow Joe to return home to Meg after the Sox win the Pennant.
As he writes a farewell note to Meg, Joe is palpably torn between the excitement of leaving his vicarious role on the sidelines for the real deal as a participant because it also means leaving his life partner, which he poignantly sings about in “Goodbye, Old Girl.”
Applegate transforms Joe into a handsome younger version of himself as Joe Hardy, played by Stephen Mark Lucas, whose strong vocals are showcased in many of the numbers, including the love songs, “A Man Doesn’t Know,” and “Near to You.”
Applegate tries to distract Joe from Meg and the contract by bringing in Lola (Angel Reda), a gorgeous, sexy seductress who vamps a “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets,” that hits it out of the ballpark.
Meanwhile, Gloria Thorpe, local reporter, appears in the locker room to get the scoop on this mysterious new player and leads a spirited “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” with the team.
Missing his wife, Joe rents a room in Meg’s house to the delight of her Red Sox obsessed “Sister” (Kristine Zbornik) and her sidekick Doris (Allyce Beasley), who are as funny as all get out as they moon over Joe.
You’ll probably guess if it’s a happily-ever-after ending, but just in case, I won’t give it away.
Under Daniel Goldstein’s direction, Michael O’Flaherty’s music direction, and Kelli Barclay's choreography, Damn Yankees moves along smoothly and energetically like a well-played game. The cast gets three cheers for their equally solid and lively performances.
This first production of the spring/summer season at the Goodspeed is a winner all around. Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, you will find this an immensely enjoyable show.
Performances of Damn Yankees continue through June 21 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. For times and tickets, call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org
This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies,and online at zip06.com and theday.com.