Jerry Lewis lends star quality to "Damn Yankees," now at the Paramount.
by Wade Williams
Damn Yankees, now playing at the Paramount through December 24th, is a show that's lively, energetic and fun. And no one has more fun than its star, Jerry Lewis, who plays the devil, Mr. Applegate.
The play is about a middle-aged baseball fan, Joe Boyd, who is turned into a super player, Joe Hardy, after selling his soul to the devil so his beloved Washington Senators can win the pennant and beat those "damn Yankees."
However, Joe has an escape clause, and when he realizes how much he loves and misses his wife, Meg, it becomes a race to win the pennant and escape his pact with the Devil before the deadline.
Of course, the Devil is not having any of that. He sends the temptress, Lola, to seduce Joe.
Essentially, then, the show has three story lines, the baseball story, the love story, and the Faust story.
In its original tryouts, in 1955, all the stories kept getting in the way of each other and left the audience confused. There was a lot of craziness, rewrites, repositionings, and throwouts of numbers. The day after it opened on Broadway to good reviews, 20 minutes were taken out and the ending was changed to what we have today. Such is the evolution of a show.
As the Devil, Jerry Lewis plays it straight, and it isn't until the second act that you get one of those classic Nutty Professsor voices and the audience goes wild.
He also does about 15 minutes of Catskill shtick that is an aside to the show, but he works it in beautifully while doing the number, "Those Were the Good Old Days."
Even my companion for the evening, who did not consider herself a Jerry Lewis fan, enjoyed his performance.
The two really big numbers from this show are "Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants." "Heart" is sung by the manager of the hapless Senators and works into a great dance number as all the players get the message about "having heart."
Valerie Wright, as Lola, brings a special verve to her rendition of "Whatever Lola Wants," one of the great showstoppers in Broadway history. She also has another delicious number called "A Little Brains, A Little Talent."
Later, she pairs with Jerry Lewis in the song "Two Lost Souls." Very nice.
Damn Yankees is 40 years old and while dated in some ways, still provides a great evening in the theater. The enthusiasm this ensemble brings to their production is infectious. And Jerry Lewis contributes his unique brand of comic genius to make it a real hit.