BWW Reviews: DiPietro Throws Changeup at DAMN YANKEES with Red Sox Taking the Plate at Goodspeed
By Lauren Yarger
The Red Sox seem cursed. They can't seem to get it together ever since they sold Babe Ruth to those Damn Yankees who are dominating Major League baseball in 1952. What's a fan to do?
In an updated version of the Richard Adler/Jerry Ross musical playing at the Goodspeed Opera House, the team's biggest fan, Joe Boyd (James Judy), decides it's time to do something about the team's decades-long wait for a championship season. He sells his soul to the devil, who shows up in the form of a salesman named Applegate (David Beach), to regain his youth, swing a bat again and lead the team to the Pennant.
The transaction takes place after Joe watches yet another Red Sox loss on the tube (cleverly staged by Set Designer Adrian W. Jones) while ignoring his devoted wife Meg (Anna Arvia). A salesman himself, Joe, insists on an escape clause in case he wants to return home after the Sox win the Pennant. He starts to realize just what he's giving up as he pens a goodbye note to Meg ("Goodbye, Old Girl").
Applegate reluctantly agrees, but has a secret weapon: Lola (Angel Reda), a buxom, sultry temptress whom he is sure can turn Joe's affections from his wife (and in the "vavoom" dress designed by David C. Woolard to show off her assets while performing Kelli Barclay's sensual choreography, Lola proves hard to resist.)
The Sox are discouraged, but Coach Van Buren gives them a pep talk. After all, they do have the most important thing a team needs: "Heart." Director Daniel Goldstein whimsically stages this musical number in the locker room where the guys shower and show off their well-toned physiques as well as their singing voices. One little old lady seated up in the side balcony, with a view behind the shower wall shielding parts of the towel-less guys from the rest of us, was particularly amused, I noticed. She kept pointing and laughing.
Joe, now transformed into Joe Hardy (a strappingly handsome Stephen Mark Lucas with a grand-slam voice) who can hit one over the Green Monster at Fenway, is just what the Sox are looking for and suddenly he's the most popular guy in Boston. Sports reporter Gloria Thorpe (Lora Lee Gayer) is suspicious, however, because even though she nicknamed him "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO), she can't find anyone in Hannibal who remembers his ever playing ball there.
Meanwhile, a homesick Joe rents a room from Meg, who feels she knows him from somewhere.... This delights Meg's friends, Doris (Allyce Beasley) and Sister (a riotous Kristine Zbornik), who adore Joe and become co-presidents of his fan club.
Lola tries her best to seduce Joe, but the growing bond between him and his unsuspecting wife might just mean Applegate will have to find some other tricks up his hellish sleeve to add this good man's soul to his collection.
While this Red Sox version by talented playwright Joe DiPietro (Broadway's Memphis, Nice Work if You Can Get It) provides a nice pinch hit to the original book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, based on the novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant" by Douglass Wallop, based on "Faust," we almost wish he'd been designated hitter and really changed up the tried and dated plot (in which Joe originally was a Washington Senators fan, if you're wondering). Some of Di Pietro's finest comedy writing comes toward the end when Applegate explains how he will curse the Sox if Joe doesn't come with him.
The original Broadway production featured Gwen Verdon as Lola with Bob Fosse choreography. Her rendition of "What Lola Wants" probably was most responsible for making the show the hit it was and earned the actress her first Tony Award. Outside of the few recognizable tunes, the Adler/Ross score is pretty unmemorable, and was written for a larger orchestra than plays in the pit at the Goodspeed under the direction of Michael O'Flaherty.
Strong performances highlight this production. Beach, who created the role of Henry in The Great American Mousical at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre in 2012 is a comic genius (loved him in the original Urinetown on Broadway). He's sleazy enough to be believable as the devil, yet sarcastic enough to be likable.
Aria, who we enjoyed as Tony's sister in The Most Happy Fella at Goodspeed, turns in a solid portrayal of the grounded, average housewife Meg. Reda, who starred as Velma in Broadway's Chicago, turns up the heat at Lola (two guys seated near me had no shortage of complimentary comments about her during intermission). Goldstein missed an opportunity by not having her come out into the house to interact with male audience members.
Zbornik gives the show much-needed humor as the star-struck Sister. She hits her lines out of the park and made me laugh out loud with her facial expressions and body language. She and Beasley (whom you might remember as Agnes DiPesto on TV's "Moonlighting") lead a fun seventh-inning stretch to bring the crowd back after intermission. Also standing out from the ensemble are Michael Mendez as Rocky and Sean Ewing as the Spanish-only-speaking team member, Hernandez who also provides some humor.
Don't miss the classy, well-choreographed curtain call.
Damn Yankees plays through June 21 at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Hadaam. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm and select matinees at 2 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $27-$77.50 (860) 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.
Meet the Cast: Take part in a lively discussion with the cast after the Thursday evening performances on May 8 and 22 and June 5. Meet the Cast events are free with a ticket to that evening's performance.