By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Goodspeed Musicals appropriately opened its musical season with “Damn Yankees,” a show that coordinates with springtime and the start of the baseball season. The subject matter, a fan sells his soul to the devil in order to lead his team to win the World Series, against the seemingly unbeatable Yankees, was a hit when it was first produced on Broadway in 1955. The show was revived in 1994 to less enthusiasm.
Although I was born and raised in the Bronx, and I remember my dad listening to the radio and keeping a handmade scorecard during each World Series, I was never really interested in the game. It was an all male sport and besides, I wasn’t allowed to ask questions during the broadcast. Now, with constant revelations of drugs, cheating, etc. (which probably always took place -- only more secretly) some million-dollar sports stars no longer have the respect they once had. It may be amusing to fantasize that baseball is still so important that a wife could became a temporary widow, and that a fan would be tempted to sell his soul to the devil in order for his team to win. Just keep in mind that this is an adult fairytale that might be sending the wrong message to children.
In any case, the musical takes place during the 1950’s and is a lively, muscle-flexing production that most folks will enjoy for its pure fun and entertainment. The original show, with words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross with book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, concerned the rivalry between the now defunct Washington Senators and New York Yankees. Writer Joe DiPietro and director Daniel Goldstein adapted the Red Sox version for Goodspeed and made some small changes. However, it’s essentially the same locker room show featuring nine macho men wrapped in towels who boisterously sing the rousing, “You’ve Gotta Have Heart.” This theme song, led by full-spirited Coach Van Buren (Ron Wisniski) is so catchy that you too will sing it all the way to your own home base.
There’s an abundance of interesting and seldom seen male choreography by Kelly Barclay, who won several Connecticut Critic Circle Awards for her work. Angel Reda hotly performs the sexy number that made Gwen Verdon famous, “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.” Ironically, when Lola coils snakelike around our young hero, Joe Hardy (Stephen Lukas), she’s far from the angel that her stage name implies. Lukas is not only perfect for the role of a handsome, star slugger, he has a wonderful voice to match. The sly devil called “Applegate” (David Beach) seems to have everyone under his spell when he sings, “Those Were the Good Old Days,” and another cute character is “Hernandez,” a likeable, excitable, Spanish-speaking, ball player, nicely rendered by Sean Ewing.
A backdrop painting features Boston’s Fenway Park however, much of the show’s action takes place indoors and the set-up is linear, and on the same level. Sometimes this can’t be helped as lockers and dugouts come in boring, straight rows and the nine men have to be thusly arranged within the setting. Adding to this logistical problem is the challenge of Goodspeed’s small stage. You can’t have the ballplayers bumping into each other, nor can they hop on stairways via Fred Astaire, or swing on ropes from trees, sails or chandeliers. The team can sit down, stand on, and move in between the narrow, single row of lockers and benches. They can also kneel and dance in the limited foreground, stand in line to take showers and above all sing! When Lola tango’s out from one of the lockers and winds snakelike around Joe, it’s mainly a bench act.
There are some technical quirks during the opening scene, which takes place in Meg and Joe Boyd’s (Ann Arvia and James Judy) living room. Joe, the baseball fan, is watching the game on TV while a replica of what he’s viewing is projected for the audience on a screen, in full, living-color. This gives the impression that Joe has a color TV set -- which was highly unlikely during the ‘50’s. A black and white projection would have been more in tune with the period.
Joe is also wearing a heavy, green sweater (so we would recognize him as the transformed, young slugger in the next scene). However, for some strange reason, his wife is very hot and keeps fanning herself by swinging the front door back and forth. We wondered why her husband is wearing a sweater in hot weather and not sweating, and why the weather became an issue in the first place? There was no hint that the devil was in the area or if he had something to do with it.
Anyway, the weather is still cool in Connecticut and spring is a wonderful time to visit East Haddam and take in an entertaining, vintage show at the historic, Goodspeed Opera House. Don’t forget your baseball hat! You can root for your team and eat peanuts and Cracker-Jacks while joining the other cheering fans in the audience.
Plays to June 21. Tickets: 860-873-8668