As he's shown in several Stars productions, Shay Brandon Burke is a talented dancer, especially in routines that call for fast movements and high energy, so I asked him to fill me in on what he's got planned for "Damn Yankees."
Burke, you see, is both the director and choreographer for the musical comedy about a fictional baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Senators that opens Friday at Stars.
"I use every trick in my repertoire -- tap, acrobatics, ballet turns and jumps," he said. "The opening number, 'Six Months out of Every Year,' will give the audience a hint of the energy and intricacies of the choreography."
The late Bob Fosse won a Tony for his musical and dance numbers in the original 1955 Broadway production, and Burke indicated local audiences will see touches of the legendary choreographer's work here and there in the Stars show.
"Through the show you will see hints of Fosse, particularly in 'Who's Got the Pain' that ends Act One," he said. "But all dance numbers feature original choreography."
Apparently, Burke had a good idea of what he wanted the show to be from the time he held the initial auditions.
"I've been very aggressive with the big music numbers," he said, "not only with the level of difficulty but in casting athletic dancers."
Basically, the musical is about a die-hard Senators fan, Joe Boyd, (Randy Jelmini) who sells his soul to the devil -- actually to a devil's advocate named Applegate (Bruce Saathoff) -- to make sure the Senators win. (The story is based on a comic novel by Douglass Wallop, titled "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.")
As a result, Boyd turns into Joe Hardy (Tim Armijo), a champion slugger who is bewitched by sultry Lola (Kelci Lowry).
Cheering the team on is Erika Kern as Gloria, a newspaper reporter. She's featured with the team in the "Shoeless Joe" number, which Burke predicts will be a showstopper.
Along with a number of familiar faces, the 21-member cast includes four actors who are making their debut, one of whom is Scott Ezell, manager of Stars' kitchen. The other newbies are Marty Peterson, Zak Worman and Bennett Beaty.
Kathi Lowry did the costumes and Greg Mansi designed the set.
All of the scenes take place on and within a baseball diamond, even those that are in the dugout or the house where Boyd's wife Meg (Kayleen Clements) awaits her husband's return to his normal persona.
"We are not pretending to be anywhere else other than in a baseball field, " Burke said.
"I use stage hands and cast members to move set pieces and props in full audience view as the show progresses."
Jeremy Robinson is the vocal director; Brock Christianson served as rehearsal pianist and also leads the band during performances.
Side note: When Stars first announced its season earlier this year, "Beauty and the Beast" was scheduled for the August time slot. A few months later they learned that the rights to that particular musical weren't available. Thus, "Damn Yankees" was substituted.
The show continues on weekends through Sept. 7.
'Les Miserables' for kids
Tonicism Productions is doing a version of "Les Miserables" designed for younger audiences Friday and Saturday at The Empty Space. It's published as the "school edition" of the musical.
Even so, director Guinevere Dethlefson said the show runs about two hours and still has most of the adult themes that are present in the original -- albeit in a milder manner.
"We do sing the song 'Lovely Ladies,' which is about prostitutes," she said. "But we don't do anything graphic -- we mellowed it out a little."
The ages of the 37-member cast range from 6 to 17. Tonicism's team of instructors realized that many of the young actors would have little or no knowledge about the background of the story, namely how tough life was for members of the French working class in the early 19th century. Like the original production, the show is based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo.
"We talked a lot about what people had to do to survive at that time," Dethlefson said. "Like (the reason) Jean Valjean goes to jail for stealing a loaf of bread."
Lorea Laverty has the role of Jean Valjean in the show. Javert, the policeman, is portrayed by Kylee Saffell; Fantine by Thea Tanicala, and Cosette by Elizabeth Bomar.
Also playing lead roles are Whitney Bacon as Enjoras; Griffin Hall as Marius; and Sequoia Whitten as Eponine. All of the singing is live and accompanied by an instrumental music recording.
Tonicism's "Les Miz" will have two more performances on Aug. 24-25 at The Empty Space. Tickets can be purchased online at www.tonicism.com
A second Tonicism summer production, "Huck Finn," is being presented this weekend at The Empty Space.
It has an original script that's an adaptation of Mark Twain's timeless stories about Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. And given the many memorable scenes in both books, I'm sure the Tonicism folks will have plenty to draw from.
"(The books) are not copyrighted, so David Rock and I worked on it together," said Guinevere Dethlefson. "But it's all Mark Twain's writing --there's no music and it's more of a drama than a comedy."
The show has a cast of 25 elementary, middle and high school students, two of whom are doing the technical aspects of the production.
Miller McCraw plays Huck and Nayeli Diaz plays Jim. Others in lead roles are Maddy Roach, who portrays The King; Logan Haarsager, The Duke; and Diego Rodriguez is Tom Sawyer.
In addition to the two performances this weekend at The Empty Space, "Huck Finn" will be presented again on Aug. 24-25.