The old Faustian legend about the man who sells his soul to the Devil in order to regain youth and good looks received a clever updating in this whimsical musical, which took the tale and squarely set it against the background of America's favorite pastime, baseball. As reconceived by Douglas Wallop and George Abbott, Damn Yankees, based on Mr. Wallop's novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," transplanted Faust into middle-America and gave him the name Joe Boyd. After he makes a pact with the Devil, a businessman more prosaically named Mr. Applegate, Boyd becomes "Shoeless" Joe Hardy, a hard-hitter, who takes the Washington Senators, his favorite team (and perpetual losers), all the way to the finals of the American League game, where they face those "damn Yankees." But this being a musical, set in America, there is a happy ending to the story: in spite of Mr. Applegate, and his assistant, the sultry Lola, Joe Hardy invokes the "escape clause" he and the Devil had agreed on initially, and at the last minute, just before curtain time, returns to his loving wife as Joe Boyd, serene in the knowledge that it was he who helped the Senators win the Pennant. A multiple Tony Award-winner (including for Best Musical) in 1956, Damn Yankees ran for 1,019 performances (a rarity at the time), and made a star of Gwen Verdon, playing Lola, whose siren song, "Whatever Lola Wants," became a huge popular hit. Virtually intact, and with only one major cast change (Tab Hunter replacing Stephen Douglass as Joe Hardy), the show was transferred to the screen in 1958, in a splashy screen transfer that retained all the flavor and guile of the original. After extensive revisions, in 1994 it was revived on Broadway, with Bebe Neuwirth as Lola and Victor Garber as Mr. Applegate, where it enjoyed a successful run, before going on the road, with Jerry Lewis, billed above the title, taking over as the Devil. Of the three recordings available, the first Broadway cast offers the original stars (Gwen Verdon, Stephen Douglass, and Ray Walston as Mr. Applegate) in a spirited rendition which has all the freshness and excitement usually experienced when a show first hits Broadway. Its only drawback (if that's the word!) is that it is in mono sound, since stereo didn't become an industry standard until later that year. The soundtrack album, available for the first time in stereo in this CD version, is almost identical to the Broadway cast album, but offers, in addition to the cast change noted above, and Ray Heindorf's flavorful orchestrations, longer versions of some of the songs, as well as better polished performances overall. The 1994 Broadway cast album, with its abundance of new selections, and dynamic renditions of the songs by Bebe Neuwirth, Victor Garber, and the other members of the cast, is as good a recording as can be gotten. It has the vibrancy, the fun, and the excitement one usually expects in that kind of production, and its sound quality is up to the latest standards.
Joe Boyd is a typical middle-aged man who is addicted to baseball. Every baseball season is painful for him because his team, the Washington Senators, always loses to the Yankees. Joe ends up making a pact with the Devil that allows Joe Boyd to turn into the slugger, Joe Hardy. Hardy becomes the savior of the Washington Senators and a star in the Major Leagues. The problem is that Joe has also agreed to let the Devil have his soul. Luckily, the deal included an escape clause that allows him to return back to his normal life. After great success as a baseball player and various attempts by the Devil to convince Joe to remain young, Joe decides to return to his wife. *Dancing in the show requires athletic, jazz steps.
DAMN YANKEES is the only successful musical comedy built around the American national pastime of baseball--the baseball story neatly combined with the age-old Faust theme. Joe Hardy is a middle-aged, happily married baseball fan. He is found in his living-room watching a game over the television. Joe is in the depths of despair, for his favorite team, the Washington Senators, seems incapable of getting a winning stride. Suddenly the devil, in the person of Applegate, visits him with a proposition: Would Joe be willing to trade his soul if the Senators won not only the pennant but also the World Series? Joe is more than willing; he has never put much stock in his soul in the first place. Suddenly Joe sheds years. More than that, he has magically acquired singular powers as a baseball player. Meanwhile, Van Buren, manager of the Senators, tries to build up his team's morale ("Heart"). It is a hopeless job, for the Senators can hardly expect that their new rookie, Joe Hardy, could be of any use in lifting them from their habitual doldrums. But Joe proves the spark plug necessary to send the team flying at full speed for victory after victory.
Things may be rosy for the team, but Joe is in black despair. He misses his wife, Meg, sorely. His conscience also bothers him: he has disappeared from home without leaving a clue to his whereabouts. He tries to lift his spirits by renting a room in her house just to be near her. But this only tantalizes him further, since he is unable to tell Meg that he is really her husband, alive and well.
Applegate, alias the devil, once again steps into the picture. In an effort to win Joe completely away from his wife, Applegate enlists the services of Lola, a beautiful witch, to capture Joe's heart. Lola coquettishly tells Joe that she is in the habit of getting anything she goes ofter ("Whatever Lola Wants"). She then performs a seductive mambo ("Who's Got the Pain?").
The Washington Senators, with Joe as star, come out on top in their league. The World Series is at hand. Despite the team's success, and despite Lola's wiles, Joe misses his wife and wants to get back to her. Suddenly he realizes that if he does not play in the World Series the Senators cannot win; and if the Senators cannot win the World Series his bargain with the devil is broken. Thus Joe manages to keep his soul, lose Lola, return once again to his wife and once again assume the unexciting identity of a middle-aged baseball fan.
Damn Yankees was the second and last of the two musical comedies in which Richard Adler and Jerry Ross collaborated on music and lyrics, the first having been The Pajama Game. Like its eminent predecessor, Damn Yankees stayed on Broadway for over a thousand performances, the ninth musical to join this select circle. With two such resounding triumphs coming in rapid succession, Adler and Ross became one of the most promising song-and-words teams to hit Broadway since Rodgers and Hart. Tragically, this fruitful partnership was destined to come to an abrupt end when Jerry Ross died in 1955 of chronic bronchiectasis at the age of twenty-nine.