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‘Damn Yankees’ comes up a winner in Marriott Theatre’s charming production

If the devil himself appeared on your doorstep and offered you the chance to help your favorite sports team win big — not real big, mind you, but a more-than-decent showing — in return for your immortal soul, how would you respond?

I wouldn’t take that deal. But Joe Boyd, the sick-and-tired of being a sick-and-tired Washington Senators fan at the center of “Damn Yankees,” says yes — and part of the show’s everlasting charm lies in how easy it is for us to understand why.

After all, that’s just the nature of being a sports fan, in this case, baseball. It’s a secular religion that inspires more belief, more prayers, and more invoking of the lord’s name than most actual religions. In that sense, it’s the perfect place for the devil — the real one — to set up shop.

A lot’s changed since “Damn Yankees” first premiered in 1955, but sports fans? They haven’t changed one bit.

That’s one of the reasons why the musical holds up so well — surprisingly well. Director James Vásquez’s engaging new production at Marriott Theatre finds ways to delight that go beyond the show’s disarming lack of creakiness. With a strong cast, charmingly athletic choreography and dynamic staging, this “Damn Yankees” has an OBP that would make Bill James blush.

The offer that the quite literally devilish Mr. Applegate (a wonderfully grubby Sean Fortunato) makes to old Joe Boyd (Ron E. Rains) is an enticing one: He will transform Joe into a young, slugging superstar who will personally carry the Senators to glory, in return for Joe’s immortal soul — and for temporarily abandoning his stalwart wife Meg (Daniella Dalli).

Sure enough, once the over-the-hill Boyd has joined the team as the aw-shucks, young baseball god Joe Hardy (a winning Andrew Alstat), the Senators take off. They even stand a chance of beating those titular Yankees for the pennant. Faustian bargains: The original Moneyball.

But Joe the Younger has regrets; namely, he misses Meg and feels guilty — as he should —for leaving her with little more than a vague note to explain his absence. When Joe, against Applegate’s orders, starts living in Meg’s spare room as a “boarder,” Applegate unleashes the show’s most iconic creation, his succubus supreme, Lola, (the delightful Michelle Aravena) to drag Joe back to the dark side.

For a story with such a high concept premise, “Damn Yankees” rounds the bases from first (“I’d like to make you an offer”) to home (“the power of love yada yada”) with veteran efficiency. With a roster of songs courtesy of composers Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the smart play is to get from one to another as fast as possible. While the show has its fair share of tender ballads (“A Man Doesn’t Know,”) and upbeat group affairs (“Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO” and “The Game”), it’s when things get jazzier that the show really gets down. Cue: “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Dance is a tricky element to handle in the Marriott’s 360-degree stage environment, and it’s usually hit or miss; but choreographer Tyler Hanes manages to create sequences that are fresh, joyful, and never leave any section of the house staring at actors’ backsides for too long. His dances pair Fosse-style cool and economy with the athleticism befitting a story about exuberant young athletes.

Likewise, the similarities between a baseball field and in-the-round stage are not lost on Vásquez, who stages his scenes with a Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance feel for movement and clarity. He also uses Applegate’s diabolical powers as a bridge between many scenes, creating a sense of forward momentum that is, well, almost un-baseball like. It’s “Damn Yankees” for the age of the pitch clock.

While the show still groans a bit under the weight of modern sensibilities — the most laughable part is the Senators’ fine, upstanding owner, played charmingly by Jonah D. Winston. In reality, most baseball owners are the kind of devils who won’t even make you an offer; they just count their stacks of cash and watch you suffer.

Say what you will about ol’ Mr. Applegate. At least he gives the team a chance to win.

‘Damn Yankees’ comes up a winner in Marriott Theatre’s charming production