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Music and lyrics by Richard Alder and Jerry Ross, book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop, book revisions by Jack O'Brien.
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The 1994 Broadway revival production (with new revisions to the book), starring Jerry Lewis, finally gets into the West End. This production was first seen in the West End at the Adelphi Theatre from where it has now transferred to the Savoy Theatre with the American cast now replaced by a British cast - Jerry Lewis still stars.
A fan of a baseball team sells his soul to the devil so his team can finally beat the New York Yankees.
ADELPHI Theatre, Previewed 29 May, Opened 4 June 1997, Closed 9 August 1997
The expected transfer to the Savoy Theatre was cancelled (it was due 16 October 1997)
From the reviews:
'Bronzed and blazered like a poolside host in an upstate country club, 71-year-young Jerry Lewis saunters on as the devil.
More sardonic than satanic, he proceeds to give a miraculously polished display of Jack Benny trying to keep the simian, eye-crossing, nutty Jerry Lewis at bay.
But in the middle of the second act of this likeable, artful, literate 1955 baseball fantasy, he stops messing and gives us the works. Jerry's, that is, not the musical's.
Lewis plays the devilish Applegate, who buys the soul of estate agent Joe Hardy in exchange for the overdue success of Joe's beloved Washington Senators, time-honoured punchbags of those damn New York Yankees. He interrupts his soft-shoe shuffle number with a 15-minute vaudeville shtick of absolute perfection. The act bypasses the screwball film performances and restores him as a class stand-up. Clear stage, red tux, old gags and a topper. The glue is a cane-catching, cane-dropping routine of sheer sassy genius, another joke hitting the stalls while another spiralling, twirling cane hits the deck and its substitute comes slamming out of the wings into his right hand. He hardly turns a hair. What a stupid way to make a fortune, he mutters.
His accomplice in devilry is another star turn, gorgeous April Nixon as the seductive Lola, despatched by Applegate to corrupt Joe from his true purpose. What Lola wants, in this case, Lola does not get, despite her show-stopping song. But the locker-room choreography and the stirring choruses beautifully delineate the temptations facing all top sportsmen these days. What Gazza wants, Gazza all too easily gets.
The plot has always been a bit confused, and Jack O'Brien's production, with attractively nostalgic designs, fails to honour the dark side of the show. But Lewis is a treat, Miss Nixon a black bombshell in pink underwear and the songs of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross a joy for ever.' Michael Coveney, Daily Mail
'Damn Yankees is the kind of musical they don't write any more. Emerging from the theatre with a fatuous smile on my face I heartily wished that they did.
The great comic actor Desmond Barrit observed recently that today's pofaced blockbusters too often seem like shows to slit your wrists to. In contrast this ludicrously enjoyable revival transports the audience back to a happier, more innocent and possibly wiser age.
In those days a good story, good tunes and a generous collection of gags were considered enough and Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, who wrote the music and lyrics, and George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, who wrote the book triumphantly, and, it now appears, almost effortlessly came up with the goods.
This new revival, with an outstanding American cast, has the added attraction of the, legendary comedian Jerry Lewis in the starring role. Well, an added attraction to most people anyway. I remember. hating Lewis's exhaustingly madcap films as a child, and I thought I was going to go on hating him for most of this show.
In the role of Mr Applegate, the suave devil who offers the middle-aged Joe Boyd both youth and stardom as a baseball player in return for his soul, Lewis takes to the stage with the lazy nonchalance of a performer assured of his audience's meek adoration. I suppose if you are playing the devil a little cold, smug arrogance doesn't go amiss, but here it seems to be emanating from the star rather than the character he is playing. Lewis appears to be cruising on reputation alone, lapping up the sycophantic laughter like a fat and indolent cat.
Then in the second half, a small miracle occurs. Lewis interrupts his not especially tuneful delivery of his big number for an old vaudeville routine. There's a lovely running gag involving a succession of sticks that are both dropped and spectacularly caught, and a series of cherishably ancient jokes that should have been pensioned off years ago. Suddenly you see an old trouper in his element and it is impossible to resist an inward cheer. He's never going to be my favourite comedian, but resistance finally becomes futile.
This is, however, very far from being a one-man show. The Senator baseball players dance and sing with preposterous vim, Ellen Grosso is a lippy, hard-boiled delight as a bust-thrusting newspaper reporter and the story of the triumph of middle-aged marital love over the addiction of baseball is genuinely touching thanks to the performances of Joy Franz as Meg Boyd, Dennis Kelley as her husband and John-Michael Flate as the young sporting star he is transformed into.
Best of all is April Nixon as the devil's wonderfully sexy sidekick Lola. She turns a striptease routine into an act of breathtaking domination, does things with her legs that seem to go against all the laws of nature, and gets maximum value from the show's finest song, Whatever Lola Wants. She is, like the show itself, indecently entertaining.' Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph
'A Faustian musical about baseball? It sounds an unlikely winner but Damn Yankees coasts along pleasantly enough thanks to the upbeat numbers by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a charming performance by Jerry Lewis as a surprisingly dapper old devil. The book, by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, is a fairly nonsensical mixture of Marlowe and Walter Mitty. Joe Boyd, a suburban baseball nut, agrees to sell his soul to the Devil provided the no-hope Washington Senators can beat the invincible Yankees. Except that Joe, who is instantly transformed into a youthful Babe Ruth style of hero, demands an escape clause that if he chooses to return to home and hearth on the eve of the season's grand finale the deal is cancelled.
Whoever heard of a devil agreeing to conditions? What also sinks the story is that Joe has no sooner left home than he is pining for it. Even when the Devil sets him up with a smouldering temptress called Lola Joe stays serenely impervious. But one has to remember that the show dates from 1955 and is, in reality, a hymn to the conservative, apple-pie virtues of Eisenhower's America.
Never mind: it has some pleasant songs - most famously Heart and Whatever Lola Wants - and, on this occasion, Jerry Lewis. Not that this is the neurotic, twitching zany one remembers from those Frank Tashlin films Lewis plays the Devil, otherwise known as Applegate, as a blazered smoothy with the slightly prim campness of Jack Benny. At one point, crying "I'm so angry with myself, I could even split a hoof ', he shrugs a weary eyebrow.
He does, however, cut loose in the second half when he turns a song called Those Were The Good Old Days into a mini-Las Vegas routine, donning a salmon-coloured jacket and boater. He tells a number of mildly risque stories with a laid-back aplomb. Lewis once mugged away alongside the cool Dean Martin; now in some extraordinary way, he seems to have turned into him.
Lewis justified the evening, while April Nixon as Lola leaves one quietly stirred and that John-Michael Flate does all he can with the insufferably bland hero, who scarcely seems to enjoy his moment of glory. Jack O'Brien directs with the kind of ruthless efficiency that allows a song like Heart to bleed from one scene into the next.
It is a good example of the middle-ranking, mid-Fifties American musical: not wildly exciting but harmlessly pleasant What lifts it out of the rut is Jerry Lewis, who both exudes the weathered charm of an ageing golf pro and invests the proceedings with just the right degree of irony as when he turns to the audience, in the midst of some vaudevillean shtick, crying: "What a stupid way to earn a fortune!"' Michael Billington, Guardian
'It's a damn shame. This big-hearted 1955 baseball musical with Faustian overtones should be damn good fun. Alas, Jack O'Brien's jaunty, all-American production - transplanted lock, stock, balls and bats from Broadway makes a modest start to its London season. For every home run there's a fumbled ball, and Jerry Lewis turns out to be as much of a liability as a star hitter. The overall batting average is, well, average.
Damn Yankees is that rare thing, a musical with both good tunes and a decent plot. The song- studded story of a man who sells his soul to the devil to help his favourite baseball team, it takes itself gratifyingly lightly. The book, by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, is simple but wrylv witty. The songs, by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, are uncomplicated and tuneful. O'Brien captures some of this show's carefree cheer, but his production veers towards blandness. It's strong on team spirit, but lacks focus in the lead roles.
Jerry Lewis plays suave devil Mr Applegate, who offers ageing baseball fan Joe Boyd (Dennis Kelly) the chance to lead his beloved Washington Senators to victory over the New York Yankees, in exchange for his soul. Being a real-estate salesman, Joe insists on an opt-out clause.
Transformed into a young, Brylcreemed baseball wizard (John-Michael Flate), Joe rallies the Senators, but misses his old life and his old wife (Joy Franz). Applegate therefore pitches everything at Joe, from dirty tricks to dirty seductress Lola (April Nixon), to stop him reaching home base and evading Hell.
Flate is dull, making the younger Joe more of a clothes-hanger for Fifties fashions than a character. Nixon is excellent as a brown bombshell Lola, executing her songs and raunchy dances with give-all gusto. Lewis's performance, meanwhile, is sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes just plain ugly. Having him make his Broadway and West End debut as Applegate soon seems less like inspired casting and more like an extended,on-stage massage for an ageing celebrity ego.
In the early scenes, he's as soft-footed and bored as an old lion, ambling through his one-liners. Once paired with Nixon, he seems to shed many of his 70-plus years and most of his reticence, becoming a brilliantly dry foil to her lewd exuberance. This transformation has its price, though, as Lewis starts to indulge in the kind of goofy schticks which suited films like The Nutty Professor but jar horribly here.
Applegate's one solo number, Those Were the Good Old Days, is indefinitely delayed for a contrived, Vegas-style vanity routine. Lewis fails repeatedly to catch canes thrown on from the wings, delivering a joke each time. Initially it's a comic bonus - a Jerry Lewis cabaret as well as a musical - but after a while you wish he'd get on with it. "You think I'm crazy?" he mugs, dropping his umpteenth cane. "You're paying!"
Fortunately, there are things here well worth paying for. O'Brien's production comes alive for the ensemble routines, starting with the brilliant, wordless Blooper Ballet of botched catches. The lolloping, show-stopping team anthem (You've Gotta Have) Heart homes in like a slow curve ball on the emotions, and Lola's mambo with the Senators is as vibrant as her flashy attempted seduction of Joe.
O'Brien's production sporadically catches the upbeat spirit of this likeable musical, just as Lewis shows glimpses of a fine, sardonic Applegate when not wallowing in starry indulgence.
Damn Yankees is an enjoyable if erratic evening out, where neither show nor star realise their full potential.' Nick Curtis,
London Evening Standard