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Andre DeShields is one sly devil in 'Damn Yankees'

An amazing thing happens at about the seventh-inning stretch of the John W. Engeman Theater's production of "Damn Yankees."

Up to then, the venerable musical about an ordinary Joe who makes a deal with the devil to help his favorite team, the Washington Senators, win the pennant ambles along pleasantly on a wave of '50s nostalgia, good-natured comedy and, to borrow from the show's signature song, "Heart."

Suddenly, Broadway vet Andre DeShields, as the serpentine Mr. Applegate, comes up to bat for his sole musical number - the devilishly clever "Those Were the Good Old Days." Gliding across the stage in a pimplike suit (Ragu red is definitely his color) and savoring Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' caustic lyrics ("The rack was in fashion, the plagues were my passion, ha ha ha ha, those were the good old days"), DeShields hits a homer that flies way past the Engeman parking lot.

Which is not to say that the rest of "Damn Yankees," the first in the Engeman's season of classic musicals, isn't a fun romp as directed by John Simpkins. It's just that DeShields is such a natural-born hell-raiser - flames even appear when he snaps his fingertips - that he steals every scene he's in.

He does, however, get a nice assist from Felicia Finley as his sexy partner in sin, Lola, whose job is to seduce hunky ballplayer Joe Hardy so that Applegate will forever own his soul. Though Gwen Verdon's copyright on Lola - she originated the role on Broadway in 1955 and reprised it in the 1958 film version - is in no danger of lapsing anytime soon, Finley puts her own stamp on Lola by upping the vamp volume. Her burlesque-y rendition of "Whatever Lola Wants" is sultry and seductive, as she struts around the locker room and undresses Joe with much more than her eyes.

As Joe, Austin Miller is saddled with the show's least interesting character, but at least he possesses a solid, manly voice. His duets with Jan Leigh Herndon, as Joe's baseball widow, Meg, are a warm contrast to the show's more boisterous numbers, particularly, "The Game," a humorous ode to sexual abstinence.

Ultimately, though, it's DeShields' ballgame. With him as the devil, "Yankees" becomes one helluva show.

WHAT "Damn Yankees," book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross

WHEN | WHERE 2 and 8 p.m. today; 8 p.m. tomorrow; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 29, at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.

INFO $60; engemantheater.com,631-261-2900

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