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Grand slams all ‘round at Marriott’s ‘Damn Yankees’

Fortunately for Chicagoland patrons—or unsurprisingly, given their batting average—Marriott Theatre’s new production of Damn Yankees is pitch-perfect. (That’s the last of the puns, maybe.)

In their Marriott debuts: director James Vásquez and Broadway actor/choreographer Tyler Hanes helm a zippy production of this cozy classic, featuring stellar vocals, terrific comic acting, and some slick choreography.

If anything, its main character—Joe Boyd (Andrew Alstat), a hopeless fan for the even more hopeless Washington Senators—will win a Cubs fan’s sympathy vote.

So desperate is Boyd for a win over the damn New York Yankees that he attracts the attention of the Devil the silky-tongued Mr. Applegate (Sean Fortunato), who transforms Boyd into a hale and hearty batting sensation so that he might at last lead the Senators to victory.

There’s a catch, of course. (One more.)

We’ll leave the Faustian particulars to a synopsis, or, better yet, book a seat that’s much more comfortable than a bleacher and watch the runs, hits, and hilarity unfold.

Leading Vásquez’s stellar cast, athletic triple-threat Alstat, also making his Marriott debut, gives his character an authentic, open-eyed gratitude for his new lease on life, demonic though it may be.

If Alstat’s voice is dulcet, moves sublime, and acting inspired (they are) he’s matched note-for note, step-by-step, and line-by-line by his supporting castmates. As the literal duo from hell, Broadway’s Michelle Aravena steps up to Gwen Verdon’s leggy challenge as honest seductress Lola, cherished minion of Applegate, played by local favorite Fortunato, all to keep Joe doing the devil’s work. Daniella Dalli and Ron E. Rains are endearing crooners as Meg and Joe Boyd. Lovely Erica Stephan makes her Marriott debut as a reporter trying to get the real scoop on Joe Hardy, wowing the audience by leading the showstopping “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO.” Lorenzo Rush, Jr. is terrific as the Senators’ manager who sells the need for heart, as is Jonah D. Winston as the team’s owner. Also deserving kudos are Heidi Kettenring and Lydia Burke, portraying the hilarious duo, Sister and Doris, Meg’s friends, baseball fans, and hysterical busybodies.

As usual, the technical elements are superb and put the attention squarely on the superb cast. To be sure, Vásquez will be kept on deck for future opportunities at this Chicagoland theatre and others. This reviewer hopes audiences will also see him paired again with Hanes to pull off another double-play.

Hell, a home run. (One more.)