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Tri-Valley Rep returns with slugger story

'Damn Yankees' opens April 30, runs through May 15 at Firehouse
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Tri-Valley Rep's "Damn Yankees" cast features (from left): Elmer Strasser (Van Buren), Steven McCloud (Rocky), Jen Maggio (Lola), Russell Mangan (Smoky) and Nico Jaochico (Vernon).

A man strikes a deal with the Devil to see his struggling baseball team win, but as the story unfolds, a question is posed: Can a man outsmart the Devil and beat those damn Yankees?

Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre answers this question when it returns at the end of this month with its spring production of "Damn Yankees." The musical, starring Dominic Lessa as slugger Joe Hardy, Jen Maggio as temptress Lola and Ray D'ambrosio at Applegate, is directed by John Maio, who said the piece brought back a bit of nostalgia for him.

"I grew up in New York City so I was a diehard New York Yankees fan," he said. "Mickey Mantle was in my era and everything they're talking about that they hated about the Yankees, I loved. So, that was the first thing that attracted me to this story."

Additionally, Maio said, he was drawn to this story because as a young man he recalls listening to the "Damn Yankees" album in his uncle's basement, and while he said would strike his own deal with the Devil to play Applegate, he is just as happy directing Tri-Valley Rep's cast.

"(D'ambrosio) possesses a twinkle in his eye," Maio said. "He possesses the 'come on, let's go have a beer' kind of man's man. He appeals to men and he's attractive to women. He's a bon vivant. He's a very good actor and he's also a lovable character. He has a wonderful larcenist smile and he is an endearing person.

"(Maggio) is a standout," he continued. "She is the ultimate professional and works incredibly hard. The woman who plays Meg (Susan Tonkin) stands out. She is very sympathetic, which is exactly what that character needs. She has a beautiful voice."

"I think the sum of the whole here is a standout cast," the director added. "Most of the time you see one or two people who you feel like filled a hole and that's not true in this show. There are small parts filled by very talented actors."

Maio admitted many themes and representations are not indicative of modern society but said it was important to perform the musical straight and without any major adaptations. He did, however, say Tri-Valley Rep made a couple minor changes as a nod to female empowerment, notably when Lola performs her dance and sings the famous, "Whatever Lola Wants" number.

According to Maio, this production has Lola addressing the women in the audience instead of the men during the song to say, "This is how we do it to get what we want. We are manipulating them to meet our needs and we are far more empowered than they think we are."

"This show has a meeting of good versus evil and choices that we have," Maio said. "It has the niche of baseball and I think those are important, but it's more important that people go out and stand in a room and greet people and fist bump or hug and feel a sense of being normal again. They need to get out and see something light and comedic and this show is all of that. There's nothing heavy in this show."

"Damn Yankees" was penned by George Abbot and Douglas Wallop with music and lyrics written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. It was developed as a retelling of a Faust legend and is based on Wallop's 1954 novel, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant." The original Broadway production won the Tony for Best Musical in 1956.

The Tri-Valley Rep production opens next Saturday (April 30) and runs through May 15 at the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. in Pleasanton. Performances take place Fridays through Sundays. Tickets are available through www.trivalleyrep.org and www.firehousearts.org or by calling 925-931-4848.