HLOC's naughty 'Damn Yankees' is delightful fun

In today's cynical world, sometimes it's refreshing to take a nostalgic trip back and revisit a musical like Humboldt Light Opera Co.'s bittersweet production of "Damn Yankees," an entertaining example of joyful community theater that closes this weekend at CR's Forum Theatre.

Loaded from curtain to curtain with an unabashedly sentimental Faustian plot that pits an average good guy against the ultimate bad guy, the wickedly witty co-creators Richard Adler and Jerry Ross enhanced it all with their memorable, deceptively simple score.

Try as you might to resist, the catchy melodies and rhyming lyrics stick in your head as you cheerfully surrender to the show's ironically pure, inspiring, whimsical spell. Even though at the time it was first produced in 1955, the title alone with its "shocking profanity" raised quite a stir during that overtly innocent "Father Knows Best" era.

In addition, having more swearing throughout the show -- appropriate though it was in a baseball dugout -- was also groundbreaking for a Broadway musical.

Needless to say, with the exception of the title itself that obviously couldn't be changed, the naughty words in the script were cleaned-up when the show was produced elsewhere in community theaters around the country.

However, since audiences have obviously become more accustomed to hearing such relatively commonly used language onstage, on television, in films and on street corners everywhere, the original script is completely intact for current productions.

That, of course, includes HLOC's, but I dare say it won't be any big deal, one way or the other. And, the script, in general, is so PG in its content that even the sexual references are so charmingly camp in their approach and context, that they're not offensive but funny.

All of that said, let's do a quick plot synopsis. It's the 1950s and World Champion New York Yankees is an almost automatic title the club walks away with at the end of every World Series. The most pathetic, ongoing losers lagging in last place every year are the hapless Washington Senators.

But the inept squad still has one loyal fan who has faith in them finally beating the Yankees and taking the crown: Joe Walsh, played with likable enthusiasm by Humboldt Light Opera Co.'s Robert Keiber. Walsh is a well-past-his-athletic-prime, middle-aged guy who follows the Senators' painful exploits on TV, rooting them on from his easy chair for "Six Months Out of Every Year."

That is, in fact, the title of his wife Meg's song as she laments his physical presence but mental absence during baseball season. Carol Escobar balances Keiber well with her Donna Reed-housewife turn as Meg.

However, Walsh's love of the team attracts The Devil, who appears as a smooth-talking salesman named Mr. Applegate. He promises his soul to the devil for the chance to become a 26-year-old power-hitter named Joe Hardy, soon engagingly played by James Gadd.

Can young Joe help the Senators beat those "Damn Yankees" in the World Series (at last) and outwit The Devil before he turns back into old Joe? This is one show where audiences can definitely count on a happy ending, and the Devil gets his due. But not the one he wants.

Brad Curtis slickly and slyly plays The Devil/Applegate, aided by a sinful siren from the underworld named Lola -- Lela Annotto-Pemberton's portrayal brims with sultry sassiness.

Curtis scores vocally with his ironic "Those Were the Good Old Days," and his seductive sidekick shines belting out "Whatever Lola Wants."

The production's tunes also include "Goodbye Old Girl;" "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.;" "A Man Doesn't Know;" "A Little Brains, a Little Talent;" "Who's Got the Pain;" "The Game;" "Near To You" and "Two Lost Souls."

The ball players -- Gino Bloomberg, Jesse Chaves, Dylan Karl, Rigel Schmitt, Andrew Sible, Levi Simmons, Jake Smith and Lexus Landry -- and their long-suffering manager (Bill Ryder) robustly deliver the big number, "Heart."

Rounding out the energetic cast in fine style are Melissa Trauth as sports reporter, Gloria; the neighborhood ladies, Patty Andreise, Jennifer Callen, Bonnie Cyr, Katherine Matheson, Alana McConnell, Mary Severdia and Liz Souza; and Howard Lang, Ralph Nelson and Ken Stoddard in cameo roles.

Directed with obvious loving-care by Carol Ryder, the show's music co-directors are Molly Severdia and Sharon Welton -- with Welton on piano expertly playing the score. Trauth designed the clever choreography; Kevin Sharkey, the period costumes and Justin Takata, the lighting. Peter Johnson is the technical director.

"Damn Yankees" is not always perfect, but always irresistible. See it! Remember, the show closes its run at CR with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Tickets are $15 general; $13 students/seniors. Buy them online at hloc.org, at Parasol Arts, Eureka; Holly Yashi Retail, Arcata; Fortuna Music Mart, Fortuna or at the door.

If you go

What: "Damn Yankees"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: CR Forum Theatre

Admission: $15 general, $13 students/seniors

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