Tulane Summer Lyric opens season with ‘Damn Yankees’ _lowres

Photo by Michael Palumbo -- Julie Tolivar as Lola with Ben Biggers as Joe Hardy, right, and Nigel Columbus as Mr. Applegate in 'Damn Yankees.'

In New Orleans, summer means heat, sno-balls, hurricane season and Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre.

Now in its 48th year, Tulane Summer Lyric offers three popular musicals, each running one weekend in the summer. Although this year marks the absence of longtime artistic director Michael Howard, his temporary replacement, C. Leonard Raybon, assures audiences that the quality of Tulane’s shows will not be affected.

Adhering to an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” mentality, Raybon promises the same great orchestra, singing and sets — the essence of musical theater.

Planned for the 2015 season are “Damn Yankees,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” and “Hello, Dolly!”

As the opener for the season, playing from June 18-21, “Damn Yankees” has a particular significance to Raybon, who played Young Joe Hardy (“though not so young anymore,” he joked) when Summer Lyric performed the play back in 1999.

“Damn Yankees” is the story of baseball fanatic Joe Boyd (Kris Shaw), who makes a deal with the devil (known as Mr. Applegate, and played by Nigel Columbus) in order to help his team win the World Series against the New York Yankees.

Joe Boyd is transformed into Joe Hardy (Ben Biggers), baseball star, who in the midst of popular songs, such as “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo” and “Ya Gotta Have Heart,” must battle temptation from Julie Tolivar’s Lola and somehow find a way to both fulfill his wish and save his soul.

“This is a popular show, and I have fond memories of doing it 15 years ago,” Raybon said. “It’s a universal story.”

And while perhaps baseball is not New Orleans’ favorite pastime, it’s hard to imagine many of us wouldn’t consider making a deal with the devil to help our football squad achieve another Super Bowl victory.

July 9-12 marks the second show of the cycle, Mary Rodger’s “Once Upon a Mattress,” the zany retelling of the classic fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.”

“ ‘Once’ is not as well-known as the other productions this year,” Raybon said, “but Carol Burnett’s original production put it on the map, and so that put it on our radar.”

Re-creating Burnett’s role will be Leslie Claverie. At the helm will be Ricky Graham.

Finally, wrapping up the season is the classic musical “Hello, Dolly!” which will run July 30-Aug. 2. Starring Elizabeth Argus and directed by Diane Lala (who also will direct “Damn Yankees”), “Hello, Dolly!” follows professional meddler and widow Dolly Gallagher Levi as she decides she’s finally ready to start living life again.

Composed of such numbers as “Ribbons Down My Back,” “Elegance,” “It Only Takes a Moment” and the titular “Hello, Dolly!” the piece is straight out of the Golden Age of musical theater.

The 48th season of Tulane Summer Lyric will mark a first for a few of its members.

“Leslie Claverie has done Summer Lyric before but never in a lead role,” Raybon said. “And it’s a first appearance for Mandy Zirkenbach, who has a supporting role in ‘Yankees.’ ”

As with previous years, the shows will each run one weekend (8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee), and tickets will cost $30 to $40.

All performances will be held at the Brandt V.B. Dixon Performing Arts Center on Tulane University’s campus.

Tickets can be purchased either at the door or by phone at (504) 865-5269.

For more information, call (504) 865-5271.

Editor’s Note: This story was modified on June 18, 2015, to correct the spelling of C. Leonard Raybon’s name and to change Leslie Castay to Leslie Claverie.