"Six months out of every year, when we cook for them it never pays;
Instead of praising our goulash, they're appraising the plays of Willie Mays!"
- Music by Richard Adler
- Lyrics by Jerry Ross
- Book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop
- Directed by George Abbott
- Choreography by Bob Fosse
- Musical Direction by Hal Hastings
- Orchestrations by Don Walker
- Opened 5/5/55 at the 46th Street Theatre in New York. (1019 performances).
- Jimmie Komack
- Richard Bishop
- Nathaniel Frey
- Albert Linville
- Jean Stapleton
- Ronn Cummins
- Jackie Scholle
- Cherry Davis
This musical was based on The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop.
Real-estate salesman Joe Boyd is a fanatical follower of the Washington Senators, much to the dismay of his wife Meg. He hates those "damn Yankees" for continually winning the pennant, and in an incautious moment swears he'd sell his soul to prevent them from winning it again. Here comes Mr. Applegate, dapper and smooth, who offers to take Joe up on the offer by transforming him into a great long-ball hitter for the Senators. Joe agrees, but because he isn't sure if he wants to leave his wife for good, he negotiates an escape clause--if he doesn't want to give Mr. Applegate his soul by Sept. 24, he can keep it. Applegate transforms Joe into young, strong Joe Hardy and introduces the nervous player to Van Buren, the manager of the Senators. Initially skeptical, Van Buren is won over and signs Joe to the team.
Joe Hardy is an immediate sensation as he helps the Senators turn their season around, but he dislikes the media attention, particularly that given by nosy reporter Gloria Thorpe, who digs into his background, trying to find out more about him. He also finds that he misses Meg a great deal and ends up renting a room from her, though Applegate tries to prevent this. Applegate also imports his most effective seductress, Lola, to tempt Joe further. But Joe resists her considerable charms, and Applegate chastises her. In fact, Lola is genuinely attracted to Joe in a friendly way and decides to do what she can to help him.
Meanwhile, Gloria can't find anything on Joe and comes to the conclusion that he's really Shifty McCoy, a baseball player from the Mexican League who takes bribes. The papers are about to break the story, and the baseball commissioner sets a hearing for Sept. 24 for Joe to prove who he really is. In the interim, the Senators lose a game without Joe, and Joe gets reassurance from Meg that she doesn't think he's McCoy. Applegate, for his part, is gloating because he plans for the Senators to lose so that Joe has to stay and play beyond the 24th. Joe comes to him, wanting out of the deal, but Applegate insists that the transformation can only take place at midnight; Joe has to opt out at five before midnight, stepping through a doorway to indicate his choice.
The hearing takes place, and Joe is vindicated, but he is unable to step through the door. Lola, having spiked Applegate's "demon rum" with sleeping pills, takes him out for a night on the town to celebrate the one good thing to have happened: the Senators will win the pennant. The next day, with the game underway and the Senators ahead by a run, Applegate arrives, furious and determined to make the Senators lose even if he has to sacrifice Joe. (He's counting on a lot of suicides when the Senators lose.) He transforms Lola to her ugly original self and Joe back to Joe Boyd just as he's about to catch a fly ball to win the game. But Joe Boyd manages to catch the ball, and he rushes back to Meg, where they cuddle as Applegate screams abuse at him.
- Overture: Six Months Out of Every Year
- Goodbye, Old Girl
- Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.
- A Little Brains, a Little Talent
- A Man Doesn't Know
- Whatever Lola Wants
- Heart (reprise)
- Who's Got the Pain?
- The Game
- Near to You
- Those Were the Good Old Days
- Two Lost Souls
- A Man Doesn't Know (reprise)
Entries in red were winners.
- Best Musical
- Best Actor (Ray Walston)
- Best Actor (Stephen Douglass)
- Best Actress (Gwen Verdon)
- Best Supporting Actor (Russ Brown)
- Best Supporting Actress (Rae Allen)
- Best Musical Direction (Hal Hastings)
- Best Choreography (Bob Fosse)
- Best Stage Technician (Harry Green)
- [Anyone know of any for the original production?]
I saw the touring company of the Damn Yankees revival some years ago with Jerry Lewis as Mr. Applegate and a bunch of nonentities in the rest of the roles. I remember Lewis's performance as being perfunctory and self-indulgent (though I should cut him some slack, since this was his first or second performance after Dean Martin died. Still, my parents and I came out of the theatre wondering whether his understudy had been any good. I heard later that he was), and that they used the dullest possible staging for "Near to You," the duet between Joe Hardy and Meg, who pretty much just stood there and sang at each other. I was also struck by how dated the show felt and how generally slow-moving it was. (It tells you something about how dull this production was that I have almost no memory of any of the big dance numbers or even the songs that I liked.) Frankly, the interview with George Abbott in our theatre magazine was more interesting than the show. I had the original cast album, of course, but hadn't listened to it much, since I had recorded it off a CD in the early 90s and kept misplacing the tape.
Flash forward to 2000. Gwen Verdon had just died, and I was depressed. More out of a sense of duty than anything, I bought the movie version of Damn Yankees. Revelation! Staged and acted properly (we'll forget Tab Hunter for the nonce), that was a good show, with some excellent music and terrific choreography. So I bought the OCR so I wouldn't have to hunt around for that damn tape any more.
The first thing that strikes you about the music is how catchy it is. Except for "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You," a couple of love songs that I find dull, all of the tunes are eminently hummable. Many of them were hits or have entered the public consciousness: "Heart," "A Little Brains, a Little Talent," and "Whatever Lola Wants" in particular. "Six Months Out of Every Year" is one of those great opening songs that sets the scene perfectly, introduces the central problem of the show, and tells the audience that this is going to be a lively production.
The odd song out is "Who's Got the Pain," which was a last-minute replacement to substitute for a weird gorilla-suit number that Bob Fosse really liked and that the rest of the creative team and audiences hated. You can read about this oddball number, and see a picture of it that'll convince you that Fosse wasn't always a genius, in Martin Gottfried's interesting bio of Fosse, All His Jazz. As Damn Yankees fans know, "Who's Got the Pain" is famous for being the only filmed example of Fosse and Verdon dancing together. Otherwise, it's one of the stupider songs in a major Broadway musical, as Adler and Ross freely admitted. Its parallel in The Pajama Game, "Steam Heat," is much better. (Both musicals include an "amateur theatre" moment--Pajama Game's was a morale raiser for the workers, Damn Yankees's was a fan celebration in honor of Joe Hardy--completely unnecessary to the plot, in order to give the dancers something more to do. I wonder if such moments would have been a hallmark of future Adler & Ross shows?)
The book is silly, but fantasy has rarely translated well to the musical stage, and Damn Yankees is one of the few shows where it works. The lyrics are also good, not flashy but solid and natural for the most part, with flashes of delicious sly wit. Adler and Ross showed real improvement from The Pajama Game to this show. What a shame that Jerry Ross died six months after Damn Yankees (bronchial ailment), because they could have been one of the premier duos of the musical stage. Adler was never the same on his own and churned out a handful of flops, including the interesting Kwamina for his wife, Sally Ann Howes.
This disc desperately needs remastering; the sound, while not as tinny and obviously mono as some, is not very crisp and betrays its origins too clearly. I have a feeling that Damn Yankees won't be high on anyone's remastering list, though.
The performances on CD are a mixed bag, with few really good voices; this is one of those musicals where most of the singers have "character" voices. The material is suited to them, but you can see why most of them had minimalist careers as singers (and probably as actors, too).
- This is one of Gwen Verdon's earliest recordings and the first where she was top billed (despite having less stage time than Stephen Douglass and first showing up late in the first act). Fans will notice that her voice is much cleaner and more conventional here than in her later musicals; she has none of that famous gravelly sound that made her so interesting to listen to in such musicals as Sweet Charity and Chicago. (I don't have all the musicals that she appeared in; one of the "bridges" between this one and Sweet Charity, New Girl in Town, does show some vocal roughening. Someday I'll own everything and be able to track the progress of her voice.) Because we cannot see her dance on the CD, we're missing much of the best part of Damn Yankees. However, it's apparent that she's already a fine singing actress, and at least we can see her in her full glory in the movie version.
- Poor Stephen Douglass was the only major actor from the stage version not to be used in the movie. It's hard to understand why anyone would cast Tab Hunter in this role, even if they were flatly against Douglass. Considering Douglass's youthful good looks, excellent voice, and Tony nomination, replacing him with a guy who couldn't act and who could barely sing and dance (and who had fairly obvious reasons for resisting Lola's charms) was a huge insult. Unfortunately, except for the duet with Lola, "Two Lost Souls," the character of Joe Hardy has the dullest songs in the show--a hazard of being a leading man on the musical stage in the 50s--so he doesn't get much chance to act on the CD. (Would've loved to have seen him as Billy Bigelow in London!) He remains an underappreciated performer with a good track record.
- Ray Walston was a much better actor than singer. His only number, "Those Were the Good Old Days," is a fan favorite, with echoes of well-known earlier funny songs, and he chews the scenery with great panache while performing it and is a lot of fun to listen to. He does get to speak some lines in several of the numbers, such as "Goodbye, Old Girl" and the reprise of "A Man Doesn't Know."
- The only other recording I can find for Robert Shafer is the Song of Norway OBC, and the only listing he has in Ifilm.com is for Damn Yankees. He's competent and pleasant to listen to, but nothing special.
- Shannon Bolin may be best known to you as one of the women in the "Lenny's-Denny's" commercials. Her only other recording was the atrocious off-Broadway Promenade. She's got a nice voice that works better in the slow numbers than in the fast "Six Months"--she brays her way through the opening number, but she sounds good in the romantic duets.
- Rae Allen is represented by "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.," which is a fast, funny dance number. I don't recall her dancing in the movie, though. She's a shouting singer, but she must have been pretty decent on the stage, since she got the Tony nom. Her only other recording credit is the OBC of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
- Russ Brown is yet another actor-rather-than-singer; his only other recording credit is the film of South Pacific. He has the rough voice of a hard-bitten coach, which is appropriate for the role.
This is one of the better musical booklets extant: a song list with singers (actors' names, not character names); a full cast list; original artist bios for Verdon, Douglass, and Walston; two pages of commentary from Didier C. Deutch; a lengthy plot summary; and a handful of pix from the recording session and backstage, a reproduction of the original cast album cover, and a very nice picture of the clean-cut Adler and Ross on the back (talk about Wally and the Beaver; Ross, about 29 when this was taken, looks like a teenager).
This is a hell of a musical. (Oh, God, did I really write that? Sorry....) Whatever feelings I may have had about the touring company are not borne out by this classic cast recording, which is quite enjoyable. A must for Verdon, Douglass, and Walston fans, and an important part of any musical theatre collection.
All non-lyric material copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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