Release date: 1994.
Type: Broadway musical.
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.