The show: "Damn Yankees" at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.
What makes it special?: This version of the musical replaces the Washington Senators who battle the New York Yankees in the storyline with the Boston Red Sox.
What makes this review special?: It will attempt to avoid any baseball metaphors.
First impressions: Sure, the team switcheroo is a marketing gimmick but it makes for some great fun for New England audiences who will lap up the rivalry references — not to mention the thick, wicked accents. But the classic remains unharmed, full of its devilish joy. This satisfying-if-broadly played production has lots of comic verve but it has loads and loads and loads of heart, too, and I just don't mean "(You Gotta Have) Heart," that often-reprised tune that will be stuck in your head for days. No, the real heart of the show is in the tender story of a marriage lost and found. And that's better than baseball. Almost.
What's it about?: Fiftysomething Sox fanatic Joe Boyd offers his soul to the devil (in the guise of Mr. Applegate) if Joe's beloved team can beat the Yankees in the '52 pennant race. In an instant he is transformed into "Joe Hardy," a strapping, handsome super-hitter who takes Boston by storm, rallies his once-woeful teammates and eventually edges the Sox to victory. But in order not to have Joe exercise his "out" clause, the Devil brings in a vixen named Lola to tempt Joe and to get him to miss the deal's deadline.
Does he? The Sox didn't win the series until decades later, after all: Adapter Joe DiPietro cleverly makes sense of all of it in the end.
So the Sox sing?: And dance, too, to a terrific score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Goodspeed's small stage limits the team from playing full out but choreographer Kelli Barclay does a dandy dance job trafficking the players, especially in "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO." Director Daniel Goldstein also keeps things lively, if not downright vaudevillian with colorful players and coach, crazed fans and one deviled ham. There's an odd displacing moment in "Two Lost Souls," a few bits are clunky and the switch from young Joe to old isn't quite the goosebump moment it should be, but overall he makes the big-sized show work well.
But what about heart?: Gotta have it and it does with a lovely performance by Ann Arvia as Meg, the wife Joe leaves behind, James Judy as the lug husband who learns that love trumps the home team and a splendid-voiced Stephen Mark Lukas as Hardy, who has the body of a slugger but the soul of faithful husband. The songs "Goodbye Old Girl," "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You" give emotional weight to counter the comic schtick.
And the other performances?: Just swell. David Beach gives the devil his due (Gene Wilder, too) in a deliciously raffish turn. Angel Reda has the va-va but not quite the voom as Lola, missing the role's essential playfulness. Ron Wisniski taps his inner Casey Stengel as the coach; Lora Lee Gayer brings a feistiness and big belt to the role of the sports writer — and the show's big dance number; and Allyce Beasley is delightfully loopy as sports fan Doris. But for laughs, Kristine Zbornik's no-nonsense Sister knocks it out of the park for me. (Damn, a baseball metaphor!).
Who will like it?: Red Sox fans. Those who love classic American musical comedy. And shower scenes.
Who won't?: Damn Yankees.
For the kids?: Sure. Especially those who play right field.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Goodspeed's baseball musical just Cracker Jack: sweet, salty and a prize inside.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: They should have sold Fenway Franks at intermission.
The basics: The musical runs through June 21 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.and some matinees at 2 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and some 6:30 p.m. shows). Information is www.goodspeed.org and 860-873-8668.
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