Would you sell your soul to win?
The question, at least musically, is being posed by the Ordway, when it throws out the first pitch June 16 (both the ball and the note) with a home-grown production of the classic Broadway musical comedy “Damn Yankees.”
A musical about baseball? Yes, indeed. Douglass Wallop and George Abbott’s sleek and funny libretto is set in the Eisenhower era, but it rests on the timelessness of a much older tale, the Faustian legend. When an aging Washington Senators fan (the baseball team, not the politicians) yearns for his team to win big over the domineering New York Yankees, he literally sells his soul to the devil to make it happen. The only problem? He misses home. Can he get his soul, and his wife, back?
The devil, here materialized in the form of one Mr. Applegate, is more vaudeville than villain. Late in the second act, he does a soft shoe turn, “Those Were the Good Old Days,” which manages to invoke what Jack Whiting used to do so well — the kind of gentle, easy-going song that once upon a time had a place on the boards — even though he’s singing about a catalogue of torture and cannibalism.
When it opened in 1955, some critics felt the show was a solid base hit, despite the fact that musical theater legend Abbott directed a cast headlined by Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston (even Jean Stapleton was in the ensemble), and no less than Bob Fosse did the choreography.
But it was the score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, who had already had a major hit with “The Pajama Game,” which has kept the show alive for so many years. To this day, even people who don’t know musicals, or baseball, know classics such as “Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.”
The Ordway’s production, directed by James A. Rocco and choreographed by Sharon Halley, features a talented lineup in its bullpen: Lawrence Clayton, Tari Kelly, Ann Morrison, Thay Floyd, and Monte Riegel Wheeler headline the sizable team. If you visit their website, you can see the full cast (all cleverly laid out on baseball cards).
Batter up! The show runs through June 28.