By David Dixon
No one said that being an athlete was easy. Athletes competing in big-league sports must make sacrifices to achieve success.
Not all paths to glory start with moral choices, such as achieving fame after making a deal with the devil. This twist on the Faustian legend is the premise of “Damn Yankees,” set in the 1950s and inspired by the novel, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” The Yankees were a dynasty in those days.
A middle-aged baseball fan, Joe Boyd (played by Steve Gunderson), is a devoted follower of the underdog team, the Washington Senators. He desperately wants the Senators to win a game against the Yankees.
His prayers are answered by Satan, aka Applegate (Neil Dale).
Applegate transforms Joe into a gifted slugger, Joe Hardy (Chaz Feuerstine). The catch is that the older Joe won’t be able to return to his normal life if he plays during the final Senators game of the season.
Talmadge resident James Vasquez is the director of the San Diego Musical Theatre’s production at the Spreckels Theatre, and he is a passionate baseball fan. From a young age, Vasquez loved the music from the beloved musical comedy.
“I grew up playing baseball,” he said. “When I heard there was a baseball musical, I knew I would enjoy the show.”
The original Broadway production in 1955 was hailed for the choreography by the legendary Bob Fosse. Vasquez promises that Jill Gorrie’s choreography for this interpretation will feature dancing inspired by Fosse, while also highlighting the strengths of the ensemble.
Aiding Gorrie until the end of the run is dance captain Luke Harvey Jacobs, a Normal Heights resident. His responsibilities are to ensure that the choreography isn’t altered or weakened from rehearsals to closing night.
The most dance-heavy song for Jacobs is the toe-tapping number, “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo.”
“There are a lot of tricks and athletic dancing,” he said. “Gorrie’s movements are simultaneously creative and based in reality.”
Additionally, Jacobs is cast as the intelligent and blunt Senators Polish player Sohovik. For Jacobs, part of the appeal of playing Sohovik is his support for Joe and his teammates.
Another popular aspect of “Damn Yankees” is the score by composer Richard Adler and lyricist Jerry Ross. University Heights resident Don LeMaster will conduct the musical numbers, including the famous “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Heart.”
What moves LeMaster the most, however, are the ballads that the younger and older Joe sing.
“‘A Man Doesn’t Know’ and ‘Near to You’ are so beautiful,” he said. “Also, I cry every time when Joe Boyd sings ‘Goodbye Old Girl’ before he is transformed into Joe Hardy.”
Throughout Joe’s journey, Applegate adds mischievous humor and complexity to the tale. Although Satan is technically the antagonist, Vasquez knows audiences can be made to root for the charismatic and likable evil ruler of the underworld.
Vasquez and Jacobs would both like to play Applegate at some point in time.
“Applegate is a dream character-actor role,” Vasquez said.
“Who doesn’t want to play the devil?” Jacobs said.
Vasquez is happy to work on a narrative that appeals to people who don’t necessarily attend musicals.
“I think baseball lovers are going to love Joe’s adventure,” he said. “I hope the whole family comes and that dad joins them as well.”
Everything is on track for a consistently fun, smart and emotional crowd pleaser. You don’t need to sell your soul to enjoy a spellbinding evening of entertainment.
—A fan of film and theater from a very young age, David Dixon has written reviews and features for various print and online publications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.