Spend any time with Dan Pessano, director of the new Good Company Players production of “Damn Yankees,” and you quickly learn about two great loves of his life: theater and baseball.
It’s no surprise, then, that Julie Lucido, the musical’s choreographer — and not a big baseball fan herself — was a little apprehensive going into the production.
“A baseball show with Dan? Yes, I was a bit nervous, especially as I tried to merge dance moves with baseball terms,” she says.
The classic musical is packed with numerous insider baseball references related not only to the 1950s, when it’s set, but also to the structure and nuances of the game, including pitching and umpire signs. Which meant an internet crash course for Lucido.
I caught up with her via Facebook messenger to talk about satisfying a baseball-loving director.
Q: Are you a big baseball fan yourself?
A: I don’t even have a favorite team, but fun fact: In high school I was a stats girl for the baseball team for a year which gave me a little introduction and kept be out of trouble after school.
Q: How much did you know about pitcher/catcher “signs” before starting on the show?
I have been to a few Fresno Grizzlies games so have watched the game and knew the basics of “strike” and “you’re out.” And knew the catcher and managers on the sides did “secret codes” to communicate, which is what intrigued me to figure out how to utilize signals within the choreography. To be honest, Google was my friend, from my go-to graph of signals to spending time on Youtube watching umpire training videos. The research was pretty fun, actually, and I figured with Dan at the director helm he would correct me to make sure I was teaching the moves correctly.
‘Damn Yankees,’ Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Through July 9. $32-$57.
Q: You’ve worked with Dan Pessano many times. Did doing a baseball show make you nervous because he’s so into it?
A: He did correct me a couple of times but then I think we had a lot of fun with it. And I told him I tried to bury in the choreography as many of the hand motions and my own spin on secret hand signals as possible. I think it actually inspired him and we both were up out of our chairs showing off the moves. It helped, too, that a few of our cast members did play baseball.
Q: What is something an audience member can look for in terms of an inside baseball reference?
A: From my graph of signals I used every single move at some point of the show (and more). Some are in series, for example during “Shoeless Joe,” which is the closest to warming up and getting ready and excited for the game, to smaller moves hidden within the other numbers in the show. Foul tip and foul ball signals are all used, and of course the more obvious choices of “out” and “safe,” which open the show in “Six Months Out of Every Year.” Both the men and women get a bit of baseball in their dances, which is also fun. Whether you respond to a wipe of the chest or brim of hat there should be a baseball move or two you can take away with you.
Q: What do you think you will remember, baseball-wise, from this show?
A: I could probably ump a Little League game at this point with the homework I did. In combination with a tour jeté it might be interesting out in the field and like no other umpire your local elementary school has seen, but like the show, I think it would leave people smiling and entertained. So maybe opening night we won’t say places but “Play ball!”
And it is fun to see some of the baseball greats on the walls of the set. I think the audience will enjoy a musical peek into the ballpark. And working on a show with Dan, who is such an avid baseball fan, well, that is just the mustard on the hot dog right there.
Q: Anything non-baseball to share?
A: I would say you can also find within my choreography a nod to Bob Fosse (one of my personal choreographic idols) as well as an ear pull (that for me didn’t come from baseball, but another legend I adore, Carol Burnett). And as the show for me is not only about baseball but speaks to coming home, from home plate to your family home, I was inspired by the sounds of cleats, so you may see some tap dancing as well. It’s a little something for everyone — let’s say the Devil made me do it.
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