You don’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy the energetic romp now on stage at the Goodspeed Opera House stage in East Haddam, CT. This testosterone-driven version of the musical classic, “Damn Yankees” has something to cheer about for both New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fans, as well as for those who are clueless about the game, but love treasured and tuneful American musicals.
Goodspeed Musicals has, as always, assembled a team of winning talent. This revitalized production of the 1955 Tony Award-winning ‘best musical’ has been instilled with a fresh New England vibe – setting the show in ‘50s Boston, and pitting the Yankees against the loveable, but only once-winning (at that time) Red Sox.
The affable Red Sox players are being cheered on by Coach Van Buren: played as a broadly comedic, high-voltage team leader by one of our favorite Goodspeed actors, Ron Wisniski. His singing of the pep-rally anthem “Heart” leads to a hugely successful locker-room production number, highlighted by the engaging vocal talents of Rocky, Smokey and Schovik, played respectively by Michael Mendez, Danny Lindgren and Victor Wisehart. Mr. Mendez is especially ‘in the moment’ throughout the entire production and deserves special praise for his always spirited performance.
The ballsy ensemble does an after-the-game shower scene that is brilliantly choreographed by Kelly Barclay, and captained by cast member Steve Geary. All eyes are focused on those about-to-fall towels. They don’t call “Damn Yankees” a muscular musical comedy without showing us the goods.
The story revolves around a Red Sox super-fan who is transformed into a star slugger after he makes a deal with the devil. Satan appears in the disguise of a smarmy, but lovable ‘Mr. Applegate’ (played with wickedly nervous energy by David Beach). His femme-fatale associate, Lola, brilliantly sung and danced by the uber-sexy Angel Reda, is assigned to seduce Joe (the fan) so that he is unable to opt out of Satan’s contract and will not be able to return to his wife Meg. You won’t really need a scorecard to figure this all out when you see these wonderful actors work their skilled and talented magic onstage.
Mr. Beach hits a home run as the prince of darkness. His vaudeville song-and-dance number, “Those Were The Good Old Days,” fits his devil-may-care character to perfection. James Judy as the older Joe and Ann Arvia as his wife, Meg, have us convinced that although she’s a baseball widow “Six Months Out Of Every Year” they are still a deeply committed couple.
The young Joe Hardy, who has been given a shot at baseball greatness by selling his soul, is brought to life by handsome, sweet-voiced and instantly likeable Stephen Mark Lukas. When ace reporter Gloria (Lora Lee Gayer) seeks to put a label on the mysterious where-did- he-come-from Joe, she is joined by the ensemble in the rousing foot-stomping “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo.”
Biggest laughs in this production come from the spinsterish much-in-love-with-Joe duo of Sister (Kristine Zbornik) and Doris (Allyce Beasley). They play the roles in the broadest possible way and their polished timing and teamwork is a delight to behold. We've been told that when these two ladies were cast added material was written just for their unique talents as comedic actors. Lucy and Ethel, eat your hearts out.
Rounding out the laugh department are the aforementioned rubber-faced Ron Wisniski and Sean Ewing who gives a linguistically buoyant portrayal of baseball player Hernandez – think Ricky Ricardo in his hilarious Spanish rants at Lucy.
The rest of this delightful ensemble should take an equally well-deserved bow: Joven Calloway, Ryan Cavanaugh, Timothy Hughes and Alfie Parker Jr. All of them work together so wonderfully on the tiny Goodspeed stage to prove them a dedicated team in the truest sense of the word. Swing actors for this production are Colin Scott Cahill and Vanessa Dunleavy.
With lyrics and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop has been successfully adapted for this new Red Sox version by Tony Award-winner Joe DiPietro.
This new and improved “Damn Yankees” is nimbly directed by Daniel Goldstein, with scenic design by Adrian W. Jones. Costumes designed by Tony-nominated David C. Woolard and lighting design by Brian Tovar blend flawlessly with sound design by Jay Hilton, who is in his 29th season at Goodspeed.
The Music Director is the always brilliant Michael O’Flaherty, who is in his 23rd season as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director. William J. Thomas is assistant music director with orchestrations provided by Dan DeLange, who has created the orchestrations for numerous Goodspeed productions. Now in his zillionth year at the Opera House, “Damn Yankees” is produced for Goodspeed Musicals by Michael P. Price.
Putting on our critic’s hat, there are a few minor tweaks that could improve the pace and blocking of this otherwise terrific show. The pure soap opera numbers could have been shortened and cut. ‘Goodbye Old Girl,’ ‘Near To You’ and ‘A Man Doesn't Know’ slow the action of the show. Fortunately, Mr. DiPietro’s adaptation allowed for more spoken comedy to act as an antidote to those weary tunes.
But the exuberant ensemble anthems “Heart” and “Shoeless Joe….” joined by the sexily comedic “Whatever Lola Wants,” the vaudevillian-style “Those Were The Good Old Days” and “Two Lost Souls” more than make up for those few uninspired songs, and those few tender moments that verged on being a tad too sentimental. At the finish of the opening musical number, the dazzling “Six Months Out Of Every Year,” old Joe Hardy was directed to speak and move too soon and killed the cheers that the audience started to shower on that applause-worthy number. These tiny flaws are all small stuff. 99.9% of the show is worth twice the price of a ticket.
This pennant-winning show will run through June 21. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).
Tickets are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or online at www.goodspeed.org. The theater is at 6 Main Street, East Haddam, Connecticut, with tons of free parking on the beautiful riverside grounds of the historic theater.
For show highlights, exclusive photos, special events (matinee lunch cruises and meet-the cast performances) and much more visit www.goodspeed.org And visit on Facebook, Twitter @goodspeedmusicl and YouTube.
As Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione’s voice says in the beginning of the show “And here’s the pitch” : did we say 4.9 stars out of five?