Damn Yankees

You gotta hand it to the folks at the Utah Shakespearean Festival: They know what makes a good show.

For a Shakespearean tragedy, you need acting with depth and humanity. And for a 20th-century musical, you need showstopping song-and-dance numbers, nifty set pieces, and performers with enough energy to light the stage on fire. “Damn Yankees” delivers the goods, all right, particularly in the last area: Every performer throws himself into the show with utter abandon. Some of them are doing Shakespeare later that evening, but in the afternoons, they’re baseball players, hell-bound tramps, and the devil himself.

The show takes place in the ’50s, when people still liked baseball. Joe Boyd (George Judy) rhetorically suggests he would sell his soul if his beloved Washington Senators could win the pennant and defeat “those damn Yankees” for once. Mr. Applegate (A. Bryan Humphrey) — aka Satan — materializes and makes him an offer: He’ll make Joe 22 years old and a great baseball player, in exchange for his soul. Joe agrees, with the clause that he can change his mind anytime before the end of the season.

Applegate turns him into young Joe Hardy (Alex Lubliner), a strapping young man with a mighty singing voice who, sure enough, becomes the Senators’ savior. His success on the field and with the public alarms Applegate, though, who tries to keep him under his influence by means of Lola (Michelle Smith), a round-bottomed gal who we are led to believe is the finest seductress hell has to offer.

From the rousing opening number (in which the sports widows sing of their isolation for “Six Months out of Every Year”) through the end, the show is relentlessly entertaining, full of comical performances and boundless energy.

Heidi Ewart plays Joe’s wife, Meg, with a sympathetic (but not pathetic) exasperation. Her loneliness is even a little touching — as touching as the show lets it get — but you admire her pluckiness and optimism.

Smith is great as Lola, too, especially in her famous “Whatever Lola Wants” number. Singing with a fake Spanish accent (“Jew are so sessy when jew say that”), “Lolita” slithers around Joe’s locker room like an acrobatic slinky, drawing more laughs than leers.

But Humphrey steals the show as a devil who is not so fearsome as he is pesky, a bug-eyed sleight-of-hand magician who can control a lot of things, but not as much as he’d like to. Humphrey is a showman through and through, personifying what “Damn Yankees” is as a whole: very little humanity on the inside, but flawlessly entertaining and slick on the outside.

This is one of the less-sexist musicals of the '50s, and in the hands of talented performers, it's actually rather sweet at times. This show presents the devil and sin as being very funny, just like they really are.