SD Union Tribune Theatre Preview: SDMT Gets Into the Game With ‘Damn Yankees’ – James Hebert

 In Blog

As a lifelong baseball devotee who once — true story! — scored an unassisted triple play in a peewee league, James Vasquèz tips his cap to America’s pastime.

Although lately he has found himself needing to ditch the cap instead.

Vasquèz , one of San Diego’s premier stage directors, has long been known for a signature bit of apparel: a New York Yankees cap, which he has worn since acting in a production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at Escondido’s Patio Playhouse when he was 15.

All well and good if you’re into that sort of thing (so long as we can all agree that the Red Sox rule).

“The cast gives it to me all the time, because I’m wearing the enemy,” Vasquèz admits with a laugh.

“People ask me, ‘Are you a Yankees fan?’ (But) I’m kind of just a fan of baseball. Honestly, I’ve never had a favorite team. My dad was never like, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta root for the Padres!’ He was, ‘Hey, there’s a game — do you wanna go?’”

Still, Vasquèz’s dad — a longtime high-school coach at San Pasqual and now Escondido — managed to make peace with the fact his son long ago traded the game for the stage.

As Vasquèz recalls it: “I was probably 13 when I got first pair of tap shoes. And that was the end.”

The Juilliard School grad has directed numerous shows around town, including many for San Diego Musical Theatre, where he’s now staging “Damn Yankees.”

He also has made an artistic home at the Old Globe, where he has directed the annual holiday production “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” for a decade and will soon direct the world premiere of “American Mariachi.”

The Globe happens to have a close connection to “Damn Yankees,” too: The Balboa Park theater produced a 1994 revival that went on to Broadway.

Vasquèz saw that production in San Diego and then two or three times in New York. It’s been on his directorial bucket list ever since.

“Come on!,” he says with obvious glee about finally getting to sink his hands (or dig his cleats) into the piece. “I get to do a dancing and singing show about my first love, you know?”

Vasquèz’s cast for the show (which features such signature numbers as “Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants,” performed at SDMT by a 21-piece orchestra) includes Neil Dale as the nefarious Applegate; Chaz Feuerstine as the mysterious hitting star Joe Hardy; Leslie Stevens as the vampy Lola; Steve Gunderson as the dreamer Joe Boyd; plus Tracy Ray Reynolds as Meg Boyd, Katie Sapper as Gloria, David Kirk Grant as Coach Van Buren, Christine Hewitt as Sister, and Brooke Farnum as Doris.

Because the production is using the original 1955 script rather than the 1994 version (which has been pulled from licensing pending a possible revival), Vasquèz says some of the show’s language and situations can feel a bit dated — one of the challenges he and his team have been trying to pitch around in rehearsal.

But, Vasquèz says: “Where else are you going to see 10 tap-dancing baseball players swinging bats onstage? It’s pretty spectacular.”

‘Damn Yankees’

When: Preview performance Friday. Opens Saturday. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through June 18.

Where: San Diego Musical Theatre at the Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown.

Tickets: $22-$72 (discounts available)

Phone: (858) 560-5740


Twitter: @jimhebert

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