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In the Suburbs / In this musical, Yankees more damned than ever

Published 7:37 am, Sunday, April 20, 2014
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If theatergoers attending the opening of the rollicking "Damn Yankees" last Friday at the Goodspeed Opera House weren't die-hard Boston Red Sox fans, they likely were a little uncomfortable.

The original 1955 Broadway musical was about the hapless Washington Senators and their long-futile efforts to beat the powerful New York Yankees. But with the original Senators now defunct for five decades, the Godspeed brilliantly adapted the play -- substituting the Red Sox for the Senators.

The Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is the most intense in sports, and the electricity at the grand, East Haddam theater was sparked even before the first note of the overture.

On display in front of the theater before the show was the Red Sox 2013 World Series championship trophy.

The Goodspeed management had kept this little secret under wraps even from the news media so that only the opening night patrons would get to see the trophy. We even got to chat with some Red Sox ball girls and meet Wally, the Red Sox mascot.

Red Sox Nation was well represented by many folks who came from out of state, as well as avid fans from around the East Haddam and Middletown areas. And it didn't hurt that the Red Sox were actually playing the Yankees in New York last Friday night -- and won.

The performance was one of the best we've ever seen at the Goodspeed. The cast was terrific, and we and many others were on our feet at the curtain call singing "Heart" -- the number that raised the Senators/Red Sox spirits in that 1952 season.

The infamous curse of Babe Ruth -- who was sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees -- was written into the adaptation and plays a central role in the show.

The plot involves an aging Kansas City native, Joe Hardy, who lives in Boston and loves the Red Sox. One night, after another disheartening loss, Hardy yearns to save his team. Enter the devil who offers Hardy that chance to be the Red Sox hero for a very small price -- his soul. Hardy accepts, evaporates from his life as a fan and becomes a star player.

The only catch is that Joe must lead his team to the pennant by the stroke of midnight on Sept. 24 or his dreams will be dashed.

Our audience was so connected to the story that they were applauding and cheering throughout the performance. And that made the evening electric.

"Damn Yankees" is filled with many wonderful songs, and if you're as old as I am, you're bound to remember most if not all of them.

For instance, when the devil worries that Joe is missing his wife too much, he introduces the beautiful temptress Lola, who later explains that she was the oldest woman in Providence, R.I. Lola first captivates the audience with "A Little Brains, a Little Talent", a vampy number that she sings with the devil.

Later when she tries to seduce Joe, she slithers around the Red Sox locker room, cooing "Whatever Lola Wants."

Toward the end of the show, when Joe and Lola realize that they have more in common than they originally thought, they belt out "Two Lost Souls" and display a dance style that only the late Bob Fosse could have choreographed. It was fabulous.

But the most memorable number in the show was definitely "Heart." It's timeless, and given what this country has been through in recent years, just hearing the lyrics "Ya Gotta Have Heart, Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart" probably gave everyone in the audience a new spirit. I know my wife and I left more upbeat than we've been in the past few years.

The program notes in the playbill credit Joe DiPietro for his "side-splitting" adaptation of the original play to modernize it.

"You don't have to be a baseball fan to know that the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry bitterly divides colleagues, neighbors, families, and Goodspeed patrons," the notes state.

"We are pleased to have the opportunity to provide a neutral zone where members of the Yankees Universe and Red Sox Nation can forget their bitter differences for a few hours and share some laughs," the notes conclude.

This was absolutely an incredible evening, and we wouldn't have missed it.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.