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.
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