Typically, Damn Yankees takes place in Washington, D.C. in 1952 as the hapless Senators wonder if they can ever beat the impossibly proficient New York Yankees. At the Goodspeed and courtesy of DiPietro, the Boston Red Sox, based at Fenway, somehow wish to cop the American League pennant and thereby break a jinx; decades earlier Babe Ruth was sold from Boston to New York and, during those early 1950s, Boston fans felt truly cursed.
Adrian W. Jones, designing, has created a Fenway Park-like feel through his backdrop. This is not exact nor should it be. Still, a recent theatergoer was heard to complain that "the dirt" (and there isn't any actual dirt) ended at the wrong juncture. Nevertheless, the abstract set provides perfect atmosphere.
Joe Boyd (James Judy) is middle-aged Sox lover who will sell his soul to the devil or, in this case, Applegate (David Beach). Joe's wife Meg (Ann Arvia) comments on his addiction to baseball in "Six Months Out of Every Year." Joe bids adieu to Meg in "Goodbye, Old Girl," and he is transformed into handsome, young Joe Hardy (Stephen Mark Lukas). Joe Boyd, before he becomes slugging Joe Hardy, just what the Sox need, works a deal so that he can slip away from relinquishing his soul forever, if a few hours before September 24th yields to September 25th Joe elects to return to normalcy.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox team of actors, led by director Daniel Goldstein and choreographer Barclay, are superlative as they deliver the well-known and best tune of this musical, "Heart." The use of white bath towels during the locker room scene is quite creative. Women in the audience seem to appreciate the "eye candy." Joe Hardy then appears and journalist Gloria Thorpe (Lora Lee Gayer) makes it known that he is "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo."
Applegate is growing nervous about his pact with Joe Hardy and summons Lola (Angel Reda) along, since she is one of his "employees," in order to seduce Joe. Reda is persuasive with "Whatever Lola Wants." Joe Hardy, however, claims that he will remain true to his wife.
The second act begins with an imaginative, nifty production number, "The Game." The plot, involving Applegate and both Joe Hardy and Joe Boyd, will not be revealed here. By the way, your writer is a current dedicated Met fan who grew up idolizing the Yankees and most often likes the Red Sox well enough. If you haven't seen a former production of Damn Yankees, you need to make your own discovery to see if the Sox finally get the measure of Yankees.
Several wildly humorous moments of this production are furnished by rabid Red Sox rooters, Sister (Kristine Zbornik) and red-headed Doris (Allyce Beasley). Turning this into a Sox versus Yankees rivalry works oh so smoothly. We are even treated to the contemporary Sox radio voice, Joe Castiglione, via pre-recording.
David Woolard, costumer, adds Sox uniforms and some enticing garb for Lola. Actor Stephan Mark Lukas, as the hero with matinee idol looks and a strong voice, is pleasing. Ann Arvia's Meg is touching. The production moves along nicely but is most effective during song and dance numbers. Scripted dialogue exchanges are not nearly as captivating as are musical components.
Damn Yankees continues at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut through June 21st. For tickets, call (860) 873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org.
- Fred Sokol