Stageloft hits home run with lively `Damn Yankees'.


Byline: Paul Kolas


STURBRIDGE - You've got to give the devil his due when he's as fiendishly entertaining as Neal Martel is in Stageloft Theater's peppy staging of "Damn Yankees."

Martel pranced through Saturday evening's performance with disingenuous charm to spare, and though there may be other gratifying contributions from director Edward Cornely's cast, it's Martel's Mr. Applegate who steals the show, if not (hopefully) your soul.

Based on Douglass Wallop's novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," "Damn Yankees" is a musical reworking of "Faust."

Set in the mid-1950s, when the New York Yankees ruled the baseball world, Joe Boyd (Joe Godfrey) dreams of the day when his beloved Washington Senators can dethrone those hated boys from the Bronx and win the pennant. Why, he's even willing to sell his soul to see that happen.

Enter Mr. Applegate, who transforms the overweight, middle-aged Joe Boyd into the younger, sleek and powerful Joe Hardy (Todd Darling), a slugger of unparalleled ability who leads the hapless Senators out of their perennial misfortune into the glorious limelight of serious contention.

As Joe's fame intensifies, so does his longing to return to Meg (Katherine Waters), the wife he left behind. The transformed Joe finds vicarious solace in becoming a boarder in the old Joe's home.

As he and Meg develop a close friendship, he alludes to being Joe Boyd in the touchingly rendered "Near to You."

Sensing trouble in his quest to send Joe to hell, because of an "escape clause" Joe had the canny sense to insist on in his contract, Applegate calls upon the seductive wiles of another lost soul, Lola (Cheryl Duggan), as well as slandering Joe's reputation with the false identity of "Shifty McCoy," to keep things moving in the right direction. Duggan's silky, sexy take on "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets" is a steamy femme fatale first act highlight.

One may be inclined to carp about a few inconsistencies that mar an otherwise satisfyingly buoyant production.

The ages of the baseball players range wildly from early teens to mid-thirties.

And though Godfrey gives a heartfelt acting performance as Joe Boyd, his singing is fairly drowned out by the far more strongly registered vocals of Darling and Waters, and by musical director Dennis Wrenn's trenchant piano.

However, this reviewer is reminded uncomfortably of what Applegate said to the audience while staring directly at him: "Everyone is a critic." That being...

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