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It's a show so good even a Yankees fan would love it!
Well, maybe not, but Red Sox devotees will appreciate the new, Beantown-based version of "Damn Yankees" at Goodspeed Opera House.
Joe DiPietro, the comic mastermind behind "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," finesses the Sox-isizing of the original George Abbott-Douglass Wallop script. In replacing the now-defunct Washington Senators with the Sox as the team that's forever foiled by the New York Yankees, DiPietro could have overdone the Boston references. Instead, he gets it just right. Among allusions, we get the inevitable Bill Buckner jab, some wicked broad accents, and a Babe Ruth cameo.
Indeed, DiPietro mines the Curse of the Bambino for its perfect-for-this-musical storyline. See, a Sox owner sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and used to the money to invest in the Broadway musical "No, No, Nanette." That, according to lore, resulted in a curse that condemned the Red Sox to years of World Series woe.
DiPietro - whose adaptation premiered in 2006 - expertly weaves all that into the 1950s "Damn Yankees" tale of a middle-aged baseball fan who would do anything to help his beleaguered team win the pennant. "Anything" includes making a deal with the Devil.
Satan agrees to turn creaky old Joe Boyd into athletic young Joe Hardy. All goes well at first, with Hardy hitting home runs and making amazing plays when he joins the Red Sox. But then a pesky reporter (I know what you're thinking: isn't that an oxymoron?) starts asking where this sudden phenom came from and why no one had heard of him before.
Daniel Goldstein directs Goodspeed's "Damn Yankees" with an irrepressible, light touch. Although it doesn't reach the dizzy heights of Goldstein's "Hello, Dolly!" here last year, "Yankees" is still swell.
And it's made even more of a kick by Kelli Barclay's choreography. She takes advantage of all the athletic possibilities. She makes witty moves out of sliding into base and giving signs. Nomar-esque batting rituals get a choreographic nod.
Barclay has the players, too, queue up for a chorus kickline ... clad only in towels. Yes, the "Heart" production number gets set in the showers and locker room, giving the classic tune a tongue-in-cheek twist, with the performers amusingly burbling a few lines as if they were singing into a shower spray.
What makes "Damn Yankees" more than a romp is the wistfulness of Joe as he longs for the wife he took for granted. Ann Arvia provides the heart of this "Yankees" as Meg Boyd, the spouse Joe has left behind. She makes every note of the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross songs "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You" bittersweet beauty.
Arvia shares a sweet rapport with Stephen Mark Lukas, who's the young version of Meg's hubby. Lukas is all square-jawed, white-toothed all-American masculinity - in other words, he's perfect for the role of baseball hero Joe Hardy. He sings like a dream, too, and plays the emotional scenes with sensitivity.
As for Applegate - Satan, to you - he is a gimme of a role. What actor wouldn't thrill at the thought of playing a wisecracking devil? David Beach pulls out all the stops and then some, reveling in each hellzapoppin one-liner. If he had a moustache, he'd twirl it. He may not have a moustache, but he does have a pouffed-up hairdo, all the better to hide those unsightly horns. He's gussied up in a shiny silver suit, with fiery red accents of tie, pocket square and socks. (These merry costume designs are courtesy of David C. Woolard.)
Applegate's sidekick is Lola of "Whatever Lola Wants" renown. Angel Reda pours sex appeal into every sashay and shimmy as the woman who's assigned to tempt Joe. Reda is a tremendous dancer, but she's also more than that. She gives Lola a welcome gravity when she begins to fall for Joe.
The most pleasant surprise of "Yankees" just might be a duo who make fan-favorite turns out of small roles. Kristine Zbornik and Allyce Beasley are comic gold as rabid Red Sox fans (as if there are any other kind). Beasley played Ms. DiPesto on "Moonlighting," and she brings a touch of frazzled dizziness here.
Zbornik, who comes across as Paula Poundstone's more emphatic sister, fuels her character's adoration of Joe Hardy with a hilarious gusto.
Beasley and Zbornik welcome the audience back from intermission by wandering up the aisles, acting like snack-sellers at ballgames. They are so amusing, they deserve their own spin-off.
What: "Damn Yankees"
Where: Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam
When: Through June 21; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., and 2 p.m. Sun., with performances at 2 p.m. on select Thursdays and at 6:30 p.m. on select Sundays
Tickets: Start at $27. All prices subject to change based on availability.
Contact: (860) 873-8668, goodspeed.org