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Theater Review: “Damn Yankees”

Katie Sapper (Gloria Thorpe) and the ensemble of Damn Yankees.
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

Remember Faust, who sold his soul to the devil for knowledge and worldly pleasures? Well, wouldn’t you know, somebody saw a baseball story in that.

It’s called “Damn Yankees” (my feeling exactly, but I could say that equally about every sports team), and San Diego Musical Theatre presents the 1955 musical through June 18 at the Spreckels Theatre. 

Meg (Tracy Ray Reynolds) and Joe Boyd (Steve Gunderson) sit at home, he communing loudly with the Washington Senators game on TV, she being ignored as she is “Six Months Out Of Every Year.”

When Joe muses “I’d sell my soul for one long-ball hitter,” a spotlight hits a dapperly dressed fellow named Applegate (aka the devil, played with great panache by Neil Dale), who shows up to grant Joe’s wish, asking “How would you like to be the greatest ballplayer in all of history?”

Well, how could Joe resist, and the rest of the musical tells the tale of Joe leaving Maggie (temporarily) for cleats, fame, glory and a long-awaited pennant for the Senators.

Van Buren (David Kirk Grant), the skeptical but ever hopeful manager of the team, is desperate enough to give the new kid a try (and as shocked as everyone else to find out he really can throw that ball). Senators owner Welch (Ted Leib) is equally surprised.

Of course, the devil can’t resist tossing other temptations in Joe’s way, like Lola (Leslie Stevens), whose motto is “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.” It’s easy to see why. Will Joe give in? 

James Vasquez directs this old warhorse, which is a bit long in the tooth but boasts some fine voices, cute choreography by Jill Gorrie (including a scary but successful toss of Katie Sapper as reporter Gloria Thorpe from the second level into the waiting arms of four baseball players below), and a fine 21-piece orchestra conducted by SDMT’s Don LeMaster.

Gunderson’s reading of Joe Boyd (the fan) is comfortable as a favorite pair of slippers, yelling at the “blind” ump and encouraging the Senators to win one at last.

Reynolds is equally fine as the exasperated six-months-a-year baseball widow Meg, who has to depend on her girlfriends for a social life during those months.

Feuerstine’s Shoeless Joe (Hardy), the heavy-hitting savior of the team, is as good to listen to as he is to watch, lovely of voice and physique.

But my favorite characters are the bad ones. Dale’s Applegate is great fun to watch as the devil incarnate, cocksure and amused by the rubes’ responses to his magic. And Stevens’ Lola absolutely has that aura of someone who always gets what she wants.

Sean Fanning’s clever set changes allows easy scene changes. Janet Pitcher’s ’50s costumes look great. 

Lighting and sound are well handled by Nate Parde and Kevin Anthenill.

Kudos to Don LeMaster and the 21-piece orchestra as well. They seemed in particularly fine fettle the day I saw the show.

Baseball is always with us, at least six months at a time. If you’re in the mood for a fanciful solution to the bad-team phenomenon, “Damn Yankees” is the show for you.

The details

“Damn Yankees” plays through June 18, 2017 at the Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (858) 560-5740 or sdmt.org