Shay Brandon Burke has delivered a smashing home run with his version of "Damn Yankees" at Stars.
By mixing clusters of handstands, back flips, somersaults and thrilling slides into an imaginary second base, his choreography brings both energy and nostalgia to the game of baseball.
I attended Sunday's performance and, for me, the nostalgia trip began with the overture. I found myself singing along -- mentally, of course -- with "You've Gotta Have Heart," and "Whatever Lola Wants."
Although the show opens quietly in the living room of a middle-aged couple, it's quickly strengthened by the lovely voice of newcomer Kayleen Clements as she laments being a baseball widow in "Six Months out of the Year."
Meanwhile her husband, Joe, played by Randy Jelmini, is glued to an unseen television set as he watches the hapless Washington Senators lose another game.
Things quickly get rolling, however, when Joe angrily says he'd sell his soul to see the Senators beat the New York Yankees.
With that, Bruce Saathoff as Applegate, aka the Devil, enters and grants Joe's wish by turning him into a rookie named Joe Hardy. Saathoff is in his element drifting in and out throughout the show, suavely delivering one-liners as he comes and goes.
The team, clad in typical baseball uniforms, is introduced via an intricate dance number, "Heart," which is a real winner, replete with the flinging of bats and balls, and Erika Kern doing a tap dance on top of the Senators dugout. Norman Colwell is the team's stalwart and still hopeful coach; Kern is a nosy reporter.
Tim Armijo plays the naÃ¯ve rookie who saves the day for the Senators. He has a well-trained voice and is thoroughly believable in his role. (Let's hope he appears often on the Stars stage.)
Armijo seems genuinely bewildered when Kelci Lowry as Lola, shedding layers of her well-fitting red and black costume, attempts to lead him astray. Later in the show they are well-matched in their poignant duet, "Two Lost Souls."
Another fresh face was young Ethan Simpson. Playing the part of bat boy, he blended in nicely with the other cast members and cheerfully submitted to being tossed about and lifted in some of the dance routines.
The vocalizing is excellent overall but occasionally the vitality of the dancing muffles the chorus. For example, the presentation of "Who's Got the Pain," done to a mambo beat, was entertaining, but it was nearly impossible to understand the lyrics.
The orchestra, an energetic group of musicians led by pianist Brock Christian, was very much a part of the show. Drummer Danny Murillo even provided a few humorous sound effects via a distinctive whistle and what looked like a large paint brush.
"Damn Yankees" is fast-paced, aided by the speedy moving of various sets and props by the cast and crew. Running time is a little over two hours, including intermission. Performances continue through Sept. 7.