Book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross
adapted from the novel The Year The Yankees Lost the Pennant, by Wallop

INFO:

Opened at the 46th St. Theater    May 5, 1955    1,019 performances
Original Director: George Abbott
Original Choreographer: Bob Fosse
Original Producer: Harold Prince, Robert Griffith, Frederick Brisson
Original Leads: Lola: Gwen Verdon    Applegate (The Devil): Ray Walston
Cast Size: Male: 8    Female: 5    Ensemble: at least 6 men, 4 women    Total Cast Size: 23-as big as you can get it, within reason, say 36 or so.
Orchestra: 22, can easily be done with reduced orchestration, even 3 pieces.
Published Script: Out of print
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: Numerous, The original Broadway is very strong, with Walston and Verdon. The ’94 recording has more of the material and is also interesting. The overture is cool, but the ballplayers in “Heart” don’t sound like ballplayers, like they do in the original Broadway. That said, a lot of the harmonic work, like in “Near To You,” where they have both Joes sing, an innovation, is pretty nice.
Film: The film with Walston and Verdon is fine, it follows the play reasonably well, has most of the music. Worth a look. In ’67 a TV version was made with Phil Silvers as Applegate, Lee Remick as Lola. Some of this is around, on you tube. It’s goofy, bad 60s stuff, mediocre generally.
Other shows by the authors: Pajama Game
Awards: The ’56 Tony for Best Musical, Best Performance by a lead actor in a Musical (Walston), Best performance by a lead actress in a Musical (Verdon), Best Choreographer (Bob Fosse) (7 Tonys)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Great show for High Schools, Colleges, Stock, Dinner Theater, Semi-pro, pro, you name it. Theater companies looking for a larger-sized cast show but with relatively simple and inexpensive production values (like most schools, for instance) could not do better.

Be Warned:

The show has a large cast, and there’s some real dance in it if you choose to use it. The show does need a fair-sized stage, I think, but I imagine it’s been done often in small spaces with creative approaches. Also, if for some reason your audience or group is offended by a comic representation of the Devil (???), this would be a bad show for you.

Also, there is some sex suggested in “Whatever Lola Wants,” and a kind of lampoon-sexy dance that Lola does. If some distantly suggestive choreography (and lyrics on Lola’s part, in several songs) will offend, well, I’m not sure why you’re in the theater, but don’t do this show.

This is a very popular show to this day. You may want to make sure that no one has produced it in your area for the last 2-3 years before choosing it.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: A common middle-American, middle-aged husband and wife sit in their living room. Joe Boyd watches a baseball game which his beloved Washington team is losing to the hated New York Yankees, while Meg, his wife (and wives everywhere) complain how they are widowed by sport’s season. (“Six Months Out Of Every Year”) The team is driving die-hard fan Joe nuts. He knows if they had one power hitter, they could win, and he’d sell his soul to give them the chance. He steps to his porch where he’s met by a strange man named Applegate, some kind of salesman from the look of him. He oozes sympathy for Joe’s cause, and seems to have strange abilities. When Meg can’t see Applegate, Joe realizes the man isn’t human. He is the Devil. Applegate makes a contract with Joe to make him a young slugger, just what the Washington Senators need. But Joe, also a salesman, insists on an “escape clause,” so he can leave by September 24 at midnight and return to his life. As Joe sings goodbye to his loving wife (“Goodbye, Old Girl”), he is magically transformed into young Joe Hardy.

At the stadium, Washington’s coach, Van Buren, tries to encourage what is probably the worst team in professional baseball. (“Heart”, one of the great show tunes of all time.) Joe and his “manager,” Applegate, show up and ask for a tryout. As Applegate points out, the Senators have nothing to lose. Joe hits the ball a mile and they sign him. A sly reporter on the scene, Gloria Thorpe, has seen him hit, and figures he’ll need a nickname. Since Joe insisted he could hit best with his shoes off (which are old Joe’s shoes and too small), she and the players celebrate their new star, “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo.”

On another day, friends of Megs named Sister and Doris celebrate their new baseball hero. The Senators are in second, now, just behind the Yanks, and it’s largely Joe’s doing. But Joe, speaking to Mr. Welch, the team owner, and Van Buren, is worried about the many questions he’s getting from press about his past. Applegate is aware that Joe still loves his wife, Meg. He offers to have Joe meet a woman he knows, but Joe is free until the date Applegate owns him, and still loves Meg. (“A Man Doesn’t Know”) He announces to reporters that the team will win the pennant by September 24 (when he plans to return to Meg as Old Joe, per the contract). It’s then they tell him the season doesn’t end until September 25.

Applegate summons from hell his top man-eater, Lola. She has destroyed the lives of many men, and is not worried that she can ruin Joe Hardy, and make him leave his wife. (“A Little Brains, A Little Talent”) Young Joe Hardy shows up at Meg’s and takes up lodging (as young Joe) at his own wife’s house, to keep an eye on her and protect her. (She does not recognize him.) Applegate is furious. In the locker room after that night’s game, Applegate introduces Joe to Lola, who masking as a Latina bombshell, tries to seduce Joe. (“Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”) Her usual routine falls flat as he returns home to Meg, and Applegate accuses her of old fashioned methods. He needs another answer. A scandal, his specialty… After all, Joe Hardy is living with a married woman!

The team loses on September 23! Lola talks to a distraught Joe, seemingly supportive of him. She tells him that the team lost because Applegate made them lose. Applegate is also spreading rumors that Joe is actually “Shifty McCoy,” a ballplayer who took bribes while playing in Mexico, and Gloria spreads the word. A big rally in honor of Joe starts, put on by his fan club, and Lola performs as a part of it. (“Who’s Got The Pain?”) Without warning, the Commissioner of Baseball accuses Joe of being Shifty McCoy, and announces that there will be a hearing the next morning. If Joe can’t prove himself innocent (a reversal of the American way, so we know Applegate is involved…), he will not be allowed to play again.

ACT TWO: The players get together in their locker room and remind themselves that none of the noise or press matters. All that matters is “The Game.” Joe has left Megs to save her scandal, but as they talk, he suggests that her Joe is “Near To You.” Applegate lounges in his apartment and lets her know that once Joe is owned, he will force him to throw the pennant, destroying the lives of thousands of fans. Joe appears to let Applegate know he’ll exercise his escape clause on September 24, but Applegate lets him know he cannot until midnight. Alone, the Devil recalls fondly times when cruelty and death were everywhere. (“Those Were The Good Old Days”)

The hearing, the next morning. Witnesses from Joe “Hardy’s” supposed hometown show to deny ever having known him. The time approaches midnight. Then, Meg and her friends, from Hannibal, show up and lie, claiming to have known Joe from there. Joe asks to leave the room as the clock strikes midnight, but he can’t escape. The hearing finds him innocent, but too late. His soul is Applegate’s. With nothing to lose, he and Lola go out on the town. (“Two Lost Souls”)

The day of the big game, the season on the line. Applegate has been drugged by Lola, and missed most of the game. He changes her into a witchy hag as a punishment. But he makes it for the end, and he has planned a great loss for Washington. A fly ball is hit toward Joe Hardy, and with evil glee, Applegate turns Joe old again in the outfield. But old Joe Boyd CATCHES THE BALL…and then vanishes outside the outfield fences. The Senators have won the pennant! Back at Meg’s, Old Joe returns to his loving, forgiving Meg. Applegate shows up (unseen by Meg.) He apologizes for the dirty trick, and shows Joe that he’s even turned Lola young and beautiful again. Joe begs Meg to remind him of what they have, and the married couple sing “”A Man Doesn’t Know reprise) to drown Applegate out. Furious, the Devil realizes that he’s been cheated, and it’s his own fault.

THE SONGS:

“Overture”; “Six Months Out Of Every Year”; “Goodbye, Old Girl”; “Heart”; “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo.”; “A Little Brains, A Little Talent”; “A Man Doesn’t Know”; “”Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”; “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”

Hits include: “Heart”: “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”, but pretty much every song is memorable, fun, a really wonderful score.

MY OPINIONS:
Feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating.  If it all goes wrong, you can always claim that the devil made you do it…

Baseball and Musicals…my second and third favorite things! How could you go wrong? Damn Yankees is easily one of the most entertaining, fun, and giddy Musical Comedies. Launching from the Faust legend and moving the story to the 1950s, Washington D.C., and into the life of an elderly baseball fanatic willing to sell his soul to see the Yankees lose, the show is creative, clever, truly funny. The songs snap and are all memorable, some of them are sensational. There are few better Musical Comedy numbers than “Heart.” “Whatever Lola Wants” is one of the most enduring hit songs from any show.

And this show should play in other countries beside America. Soccer (excuse me, futbol) fans will get it. Fans of any sport will understand the long-suffering spouse as the fanatic turns his life and brain over to his favorite team for months at a time. What kid didn’t dream of playing with the big boys? What man doesn’t secretly harbor the belief that had he been given just one chance, he could have made it in the majors (of NBA or NFL or whatever)? Of course, this is the perfect show as baseball season starts in Spring. You’ll noticed that the original production opened in early May? They knew their audience. (And in NYC in the mid 50s, the Yankees were GODS. Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Larson, Hank Bauer, Enos Slaughter, Elston Howard…GODS, I tell you!) The desire for a second chance (or a first chance, for the young) to do the thing we just know we could do (or could have done) drives this smart show. A smart Director will recognize the passion and truth under the abundant fun, and gently make it real for the actors and the audience. And he will have a HUGE hit.

This show had its birth at the height of the Golden Age of Musical Theater. The next year, My Fair Lady would take the art form to new heights. Damn Yankees is a very worthy and entertaining member of this prestigious club of shows, and a sort of summation (as is Guys and Dolls in other ways) of the best of the golden age-idea of Musical Comedy. (The Rodgers and Hammerstein formula is really more “Musical Play”, and “My Fair Lady,” somewhere in between the two.) Unfortunately for everyone in the theater or who loves musical theater, Ross, the co-author of the remarkable scores for Pajama Game and the Damn Yankees, passed away shortly after Yankees opened, at age 29. Adler never successfully wrote for the theater alone. This was a striking and terrible loss, given the energy, professionalism, and pure fun of their two great shows.

We hear, as of 2013, a new film with new stars is perhaps in the making. I will always love Walston, but who doesn’t want to see more Damn Yankees? Jim Carrey as Applegate, anyone? I understand they’re moving it to Chicago (and we all know the Cubs will NEVER win a world series again, right?), and instead of the Yankees being the bad guys, the threat of the show is being updated for the film to steroids. Interesting. This may make what is a dear, sweet, fun show too heavy to carry its silliness and its songs. We’ll see. Please do NOT change the title to “Damn Steroids!”

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
This isn’t a particularly tough score, though it does have some fun harmony (“Heart”, a barbershop quartet) and counterpoint numbers. It’s not hard to sing or to learn. The music is memorable, and your musicians and actors shouldn’t struggle much. There are dance pieces that will present musicians a bit more of a challenge, but nothing earth-shattering. A capable, reasonably experienced Music Director should handle the show well. Your rehearsal pianist must play high-energy, and be able to shift moods and even theatrical styles to some extent, but again, many scores are harder.

As to orchestra, it’s GREAT with a full orchestra, of course. But this is a show that is not really damaged by a piano/bass/drums approach. Yes, you can do it! If you want to add something, add a second percussionist with specialty sounds. Then, add a trumpet, a trombone, a violin, a woodwind playing flute/clarinet. More than that is (lovely) icing on the cake. Vocal roles:

Joe Hardy (young): A legit-ish lyric baritone with a sweet, clear, clean, strong voice. Sings romantic pieces and soaring ballads.  Could be Black, White, Asian, mixed, it’s wide open.

Lola: A belting mezzo alto, sexy as hell, must also dance like a titan so the casting may have to yield somewhere, and that would not be in the dance or in the physical type, she’s got to be a man-eater. Could be Black, White, Asian, mixed, it’s wide open.

Joe Boyd (older): Same range and vocal type as Joe Hardy, but 20 years older at least. (I think today, Joe H. should be in is early 20s, and Joe B., in his 50s.  Must be same racial make-up and Joe Hardy.

Applegate: Comic lyric baritone, does not need to sing well, but must be funny when he sings. A strong comic actor more important than voice, but must carry a tune with aplomb.  Could be Black, White, Asian, mixed, it’s wide open.

Meg Boyd: Joe’s middle-aged wife. Mezzo-alto, strong clear voice, good singer. The true love interest in the show.  Could be Black, White, Asian, mixed, it’s wide open.

Van Buren: The team’s manager, who sings the lead in “Heart.” Middle-aged and up, a comic tenor. MUST sing decently well, no problem with pitch, good belt.  Could be Black, White, Asian, mixed, it’s wide open.

Gloria Thorpe: A reporter, an alto with a big belt, strong singer/dancer, emphasis on singer in this case.  Could be Black, White, Asian, mixed, it’s wide open.

Baseball Players: The four in the quartet in “Heart” must harmonize well, and be spread out in range, one a bass, a baritone, a lyric baritone and a high tenor. Must sing with their disparate native accents (more on this later).  Should be selected to represent a broad spectrum of racial backgrounds.

Ensemble: More baseball players, fans, housewives and best friends. Strong voices, some of them character voices. Many may need to dance, and that will be the first requirement when they do.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
Well, the original was choreographed by Bob Fosse, so you know there are serious choreographic requirements. There could be (should be) a fair amount of seriously fun and creative dance in “Heart”; “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo.”; “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”; “Who’s Got The Pain”; “The Game”; and “Two Lost Souls”. That makes this a dance show. What’s more, “Six Months Out Of Every Year”; “A Little Brains, A Little Talent”; and “Those Were The Good Old Days” need some solo choreography.

Lola has to be a remarkable dancer, that’s part of the lifeblood of the show. Gwen Verdon, the first Lola for whom the role was created, was never a great singer, and she was a fun but passable actress. But when she danced, especially Fosse’s work (they were married for a while), men fainted in their chairs and their wives contemplated murder. She should be cast first for her dance and her look. Then acting, then voice. (This is not to say you can cast anything like a non-singer, you absolutely cannot, she has a lot of singing! It’s just that the role is a real “triple threat,” acting/singing/dance, and the importance lies in an unusual order per the needs of the role. Must be expert at “modern” and “jazz,” and not afraid of creating sexual heat while dancing. Bebe Neuwirth more than filled the requirements for the role in ’94.

Joe Hardy should move well, but this is the least important of his skills. Same with Joe Boyd, Meg. They just don’t need to dance much.

Your baseball players, and just about your entire ensemble must dance or move very well. You’ll need them for numbers like “Shoeless Joe”; and “Who’s Got The Pain.” Your choreographer must be involved in casting.

CASTING CONCERNS:
I think shows like this go quickly wrong in casting more than in any other division. The tendency is to cast “show-guys” to play the baseball players. Yes, they must sing, dance and act, and that’s a tough road to walk. But they really need to look and sound like young, tough baseball players, ideally today from numerous countries. There should be a Latino accent or two, a Korean or Japanese pitcher in the mix. Baseball is now International, and that opens up casting possibilities that will make your show more human, and more appealing to a broader audience. I’d take full advantage, but I’d cast guys who are funny and who look like ball players. Watch a few major league games if you don’t know what that means. (And if you don’t, why would you do this show?)

Joe Hardy (young): Early 20s, handsome, tall. By the way, the Joes could be any racial background, which is another way to help this show be fresh and pertinent.

Lola: Again, any race. In her 20s-30s, SEXY HOT STEAMY DREAM COME TRUE. With a heart. Seriously. Men should come to see your show to get a look at her. They did, with Verdon and again, with Bebe Neuwirth.

Joe Boyd (older): An older, flabby version of Joe Hardy. Get the height about the same. Cast young Joe first and then match up.

Applegate: Comic character bad guy, 30s-up to his 60s. Slick, sneaky, suspicious, with a sense of humor about everyone else. A used car salesman with the power of life and death, but harassed by rules that restrict him, contracts and such.

Meg Boyd: Around Joe Boyd’s age, loveable, attractive for her age, a dry sense of humor, truly devoted to Joe, we must root for her!!! She is the actual romantic interest in the play. If not, then when Joe and Lola do not end up together, the audience will be disappointed. Joe and Meg belong to each other and need each other, and this must be made clear. There has to be that about Meg that makes the end inevitable. She is quietly long suffering, funny, bright, sweet-natured, patient, a true believer in her husband when she has no reason to be. I think the casting of this role well may be the most sneakily important job you have.

Van Buren: The team’s manager, gray-haired, any race. Tough but with a soft heart, all he wants to do is back his men and win. A baseball man his whole life, he has a dry workaday acceptance of being in major league baseball, but is not unaware of its magic.

Gloria Thorpe: 20s-50s, tough, edgy, suspicious (a reporter). Any physical type.

Baseball Players: Any race, ages 20-40ish, have them really look and sound like ballplayers, it will add a real depth of believability to the show, which most productions miss. Strong comic actors. (The same applies to the seebeas in South Pacific, and the knights in Camelot, shows like that. The sheer size of the men matters.)

Ensemble: More baseball players, fans, housewives and best friends. Middle America types, but keep it interracial. Again, this is an area productions in the past have missed out on.

SETS:
There are a number of sets in the show: Meg’s living room and porch, the baseball diamond, the locker room, Outside the stadium near a billboard for the team, The team owner’s office. (That’s actually all for Act I, and it’s easy to do as I’ll cover momentarily.) A stage where a show is going to put on in honor of Joe, A park bench, Applegate’s devilish apartment, a Night Club.

I think the entire show could be played on a floor and backdrop that resembles a baseball diamond. Other sets could be indicated by cutaways, pieces flown in, or wheeled in by cast or electronically. The locker room could be a drop of a flat lowered or rolled in with lockers painted on. (This set gets a lot of use, so if you want to develop something more like life that can be rolled in and out effortlessly, do so.) The billboard, used several times, is promo for the team. It could be projected against the back wall, and we could lose that part of the diamond for those scenes. The owner’s office is a desk and some chairs, and it could be on a rolling riser, or even set in a corner of the stage toward the back out of the way. It is used several times. The “stage” for Joe’s show is usually played in front of the closed front drape on a proscenium stage, on the apron, very simple and right. You could drop some bunting to decorate. The park bench can be walked on and off, and have a small “tree” attached to its back, a painted cut-away or something slightly more real. Applegate’s apartment should be largely blood red, black, and perhaps filled with designer torture articles. Again, I think a drop at mid-stage hiding the rest of the stage is your best bet. He should have a big, round, ugly bed, but this could be painted on as well. The night club? I’d use another mid-stage drop. You’ll need chairs and small tables, and I would dance them on in the hands of actors and dancers, and dance them out to disassemble the set as the drop rises.

This overall approach, drops and cut-away, should allow this relatively simple show to be done for comparatively low cost.

COSTUMES:
Is it the 50s, when the show was written, or today? That will determine your costuming costs. Modern=cheap to do.

Lola is going to need several specialty costumes for “Whatever Lola Wants,” and “Who’s Got The Pain.” She should always look great and hot, however, and you should expend resources to see that she does. She’s got to be able to really dance, and sing.

Joe, when he turns young, is wearing old clothes that don’t fit and aren’t stylish (old Joe’s clothes, a double). When dressed well, he should be in the style of the time. Meg is always a bit old-fashioned.

Ballplayer uniforms do change over the decades, but not often. You’ll need some, and they should fit well enough that the actors can dance.

Applegate is a used car salesman but well-tailored, and with amusing touches of flame red and black. He likes to dress up and make impressions.

Gloria is a sport’s reporter, and women in that field usually look good.

Costuming this show is work because it’s a fairly large show, but it isn’t that tough if it’s being “done” today rather than in the 50s. And I recommend you do that, as not only uniforms, but baseball has not changed in the decades.

PROPS:
Baseball bats (used as canes in “Heart”), mits, hats. The devil’s playthings, and he must have expendable fire as a trick. (Check a magic store.) Meg’s homey stuff, maybe a cooking mit, dusting rag. Gloria’s note-keeping method (notepad, recorder). All in all not a tough job.

LIGHTING:
Real musical comedy with some special effects. Light Meg’s house at the top as homey, plain. When we get to the ballpark, magic! Bright and fun. But there are lots of mood changes throughout, ballads and such, that will require isolation. A follow spot for “Whatever Lola Wants”, “Who’s Got The Pain” would work. (Especially “Pain” as it’s supposed to be a show within a show. Applegate’s number, his apartment, could have hints of fire at the edges, a gobo of some kind perhaps. Overall, though, this is straight-ahead Musical Comedy. If you don’t know what that means, you’re probably not right for this job. Not particularly a tough job.

MAKE-UP:
Mostly simple and unobtrusive. Lola should be over-made-up for “Whatever Lola Wants,” as a Latina bombshell.  Later she must look like a hideous witch, which may require prosthetics.  Applegate could be “different,” pale, bony, up to you. Ballplayers spend a lot of time in the sun, so they are not pale. (You actors could help with that one.) Not a tough job. The one transition is Lola, from goddess, to Latina bombshell, to witch, to wholesome fan and dance girl. Costumes and make-up should coordinate to get this character right, and work with the Director closely. Not a difficult assignment.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Applegate, Lola, Joe Hardy, Meg. (Applegate and Lola are your “stars,” usually.)

MY THOUGHTS:
This is a great example of Musical Comedy. Every song is entertaining, every scene is fun and forwards the feel of the characters, the plot, the action. It isn’t a “profound” show, and there are ethical questions about the action which can be troubling. Joe leaves Meg for nearly a baseball season without an explanation, and then just returns home! That’s not very nice, is it. Somehow, I think Meg has to have a sense when Joe “Hardy” is living with her and nearby, that so is Joe, or it simply cannot work. But then, Joe H goes out with Lola for a night on the town toward the end (“Two Lost Souls”), and one wonders if anything transpired between them during that long night. If so, did he cheat? After all, he wasn’t really “himself,” was he? These ethical questions do need to be somewhat glossed over, I’m afraid, as this show simply doesn’t have that much on its mind. (The author’s earlier show, Pajama Game, includes similar ethical questions when an unmarried couple have a relationship. These are musicals for an audience with the view that they are intended to be fun, interesting, entertaining, and a bit titillating, I admit. When has the Musical Theater not indulged in a modest level of titillation? The earliest musicals made their reputation and ticket sales on beautiful lines of chorus girls, placed there for the pleasure of “tired businessmen.” So it was, so it is, and so, I believe, it shall ever be. This show is not immune to a tease or two.)

Damn Yankees can be done without a grand budget. Given the above, its orchestration, sets and costumes can all be easily managed, making it ideal for dinner theaters, high schools, colleges, and groups with access to too many actors and not enough cash. Every one of those theaters should do this show. Now.

This show works best when it’s a party and the audience is invited. I saw Jerry Lewis play Applegate once. I was seated too close to the stage for someone as vociferous as myself. He cracked a joke he made up (I knew every line of the script), and I busted up, the only one. He pointed to me and said something about “at least someone’s still awake.” That got a real laugh. A party.

I had the good luck to meet the great Ray Walston, the original Applegate, once. I told him that I misspent my High School years in front of audiences, imitating his rendition of “Those Were The Good Old Days.” He insisted, so I worriedly dropped to a knee and sang the damned song. He laughed, had fun, probably compared me unfavorably to his own excellent rendition. He was into his 80s at the time, and was shooting “Of Mice and Men.” I asked him if he would ever consider doing another musical. (He’d done many, including South Pacific, R&H’s Me & Juliet, Wish You Were Here, others.) He said no, too old. Then he stopped, with a gleam in his eye. “Of course, if it was a small part, but good…” And THAT is the spirit of Musical Comedy, folks, just like this terrific show!