If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A Red Sox “Damn Yankees” at Goodspeed

Ah, baseball, America’s favorite pastime. Baseball as it used to be before instant replay, steroids or, God help us, A-Rod! Baseball as it was imagined in the 1950s Broadway hit musical, “Damn Yankees”, which has currently opened the spring season at Goodspeed Musicals and has been tweaked a tad to incorporate the never-ending rivalry between Red Sox and Yankee fans.

Subtitled “The Red Sox Version” with a clever adaptation by Joe DiPietro (of the original book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop), this “Damn Yankees” has plenty of local interest. The same story is still there: rabid baseball fan Joe Boyd (James Judy) sells his soul to the devilish Applegate (David Beach) in order to be reincarnated into a top player to help his team beat the Yankees. The new Joe becomes Joe Hardy (hunky Stephen Mark Lukas) and proceeds to help the Red Sox score. But the clock is ticking for the day when Joe must decide whether to return to his old life or pay his debt to Applegate.

There are plenty of historic references that die-hard Sox fans were eating up at the show I caught last week and “Damn Yankees” is played broad and fast enough to distract even the most critical audience member. The two key roles in the musical are Applegate and his sexy femme fatale sidekick, Lola (forever associated with Gwen Verdon who originated the role). At Goodspeed Lola is given both sex and sass by Angel Reda and her slinky singing of the familiar “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” does not disappoint. This gal has all the right moves and, while far from a revelatory take on the classic role, she more than holds her own and delivers where it counts.

Far more disappointing, however, is the lackluster performance of David Beach as Applegate. The comedy is forced under Daniel Goldstein’s blunt direction and this is especially evident in Beach’s rendering of a role that should bring down the house. He lacks the panache and stamina for a show-stopper like “Those Were the Good Old Days” and was seriously winded when he finished. Better news can be found in the gentle, poignant performances of Mr. Judy’s older Joe and especially in Ann Arvia’s Meg, playing his perplexed but loving wife. Mr. Lukas has the right stuff as the ace ballplayer with his handsome stature and soaring tenor voice. His duet with Miss Reda on “Two Lost Souls” is a particular delight. The chorus of baseball beefcake assembled for Joe’s team is more politically correct than historically accurate, but they certainly make a fine ensemble singing the musical’s sing-along anthem, “Heart”. In general, the Richard Adler/Jerry Ross score is in good hands.

Scenic designer Adrian W. Jones, who usually works miracles on Goodspeed’s limited stage, has provided one of his lesser efforts here utilizing Fenway’s ugly “green monster” as the major backdrop for the show. It may work in the ballpark, but having to stare at it for over two hours is wearying. It isn’t helped by Brian Tovar’s distracting lighting which seemed to call attention to itself at the oddest times. Kelly Barclay’s choreography impresses especially considering the set she was handed. All said, a less-than-perfect “Damn Yankees” but one that will no doubt still please many sports and theatre fans.

“Damn Yankees” continues at Goodspeed Musicals through June 21. For ticket reservations call 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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