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Theatre / Damn Yankees

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"So what the heck's the use of cryin'?
Why should we curse?
We've gotta get better
'Cause we can't get worse!"

Damn Yankees is a 1955 musical comedy with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop (based on Wallop's novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant) and music and lyrics from the team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (who also scored The Pajama Game together).

The plot is a retelling of the classic Faust legend set in 1950s Washington, D.C. It begins with the forty-something, baseball-obsessed real estate agent Joe Boyd at home one evening, watching his beloved Washington Senators lose to the hated New York Yankees (yet again) on television while ignoring his wife Meg. When she eventually retires and he continues reflecting on the Senators' woes, a mysterious gentleman suddenly appears to him, introducing himself as Applegate. Applegate offers Joe the fulfillment of his dreams: not only to have his favorite Senators win the pennant, but to lead them to the championship himself. Joe agrees, but only after negotiating an "escape clause" giving him the option to change his mind by September 24, near the end of the baseball season. After penning a goodbye note for his wife, Joe leaves his house suddenly twenty years younger.

The hapless Senators are still cursing their losing streak when Applegate introduces them to his young protegé, Joe Hardy, and persuades them to let him practice. They are astounded by his batting and fielding power. Their manager, Benny Van Buren, remains mystified about Joe's background, but signs him up anyway. He's dubbed "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo." by reporter Gloria Thorpe, and his fame and career seem assured.

Not content with being a successful baseball player, Joe grows homesick and decides to rent a room at his own house. This infuriates Applegate, who absolutely distrusts domesticity and calls in his top home-wrecker, Lola, to seduce Joe with what she calls "the standard vampire treatment." But Joe prefers the company of Meg, who hardly recognizes him as her lost husband.

Applegate plots to spoil Joe's career with a scandal, and through Gloria circulates a rumor that "Joe Hardy", whom nobody in Hannibal seems to know, might actually be a Mexican League player who took a bribe to throw a game. The Commissioner calls for a hearing, and a celebration being held in Joe's honor is interrupted. Joe will be unable to play until he clears himself.

As the hearings drag on through the second-to-last day of the season, Joe is close to exercising his escape clause and thereby redeeming his soul, when Meg and her friends rush into court and testify that they knew Joe Hardy as a boy in his hometown. Lola, having fallen out of Applegate's favor, comforts the vindicated but dejected Joe, and confides to him that she's as much of a lost soul as he is now.

The next day, Washington is leading New York four to three. Applegate, more determined than ever to make Joe lose, uses his powers to turn Joe back into his old self while he is racing to catch a ball in the outfield. Joe miraculously manages to catch the ball, securing victory for the Senators, but as the champions celebrate, Joe Hardy is nowhere to be found. He is, of course, Joe Boyd once more, and free to return to his wife's lonely arms. As Joe and Meg embrace and sing, Applegate appears again, promising Joe forgiveness and offering him a second chance to be a baseball hero—this time to help the Senators win the World Series—but his pleas fall on deaf ears.

Adapted into a 1958 Warner Bros. film, directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen and starring Tab Hunter as Joe Hardy. It differs slightly from the plot of the original Broadway production but keeps choreographer Bob Fosse and most of the original cast, including Gwen Verdon as Lola, Ray Walston as Applegate, Robert Shafer as Joe Boyd, Shannon Bolin as Meg, Russ Brown as Van Buren, and Rae Allen as Gloria.

Includes examples of:

  • All Musicals Are Adaptations
  • Beauty to Beast: Lola was once the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island, before Applegate turned her into a vamp. He punishes her for rebelling against him by changing her back temporarily.
  • Chaste Hero: Joe. Monogamous, anyway.
  • Crowd Song: Anything sung by the baseball team: "Heart", "Shoeless Joe", "The Game"
  • Deal with the Devil: Applegate offers services for souls, and all it takes is a double-handshake.
  • The Devil: Applegate, though never explicitly stated.
  • Devil in Disguise: Applegate. Referencing, of course, that particular apple, the first temptation of man; Lola is one of his newer ones.
    Joe: Who are you?
    Applegate: I am quite a famous character, Mr. Boyd. I have historical significance, too. In fact, I'm responsible for most of the history you can name.
    (Later, a passing stranger asks him, "Are you anybody?" He replies, "Not a soul.")
  • The Devil Is a Loser: Midway through the film, Applegate admits that he doesn't have very many magical powers; "It's mostly just the cigarette trick," and he's trying to quit smoking. Otherwise, he has to buy his own costumes and do all his legwork the old-fashioned way. One scene has him calling Lola by payphone and then using his powers to get his coins back. He needs them!
  • Evil Redhead: Applegate's seductress Lola has red hair.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage:
    Meg: When we met in 1938/It was November/When I said that I would be his mate/It was December
  • George Washington Slept Here: It mentions this in Lola's song "A Little Brains, a Little Talent," in a joke that had to be Bowdlerised out of the film version:
    You've seen the sign that says George Washington once slept here,
    Well, tho' nobody spied him
    Guess who was beside him?
  • "I Am" Song: "A Little Brains, a Little Talent" for Lola.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Lola falls in love with Joe because out of all the men she's been able to wrap around her finger, Joe is the only one who resists her charms and remains faithful to his wife.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Lola eventually falls in love with Joe, but knowing that his heart belongs to Meg, she aids him in helping the Senators win the pennant while keeping both his soul and his wife.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Gloria Thorpe. When Joe Hardy shows up and starts making a huge difference for the Senators, she becomes determined to know who he is and is made suspicious by his lack of a backstory.
  • Large Ham: Applegate.
  • Louis Cypher: Applegate, referring to the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge.
  • Love Redeems: Lola's love for Joe helps her turn against Applegate and break his deal with Joe.
  • One Season Athlete: The show revolves around Joe Boyd making a Deal with the Devil to help his favorite team, the Washington Senators win the pennant over the New York Yankees. The deal involves him becoming young slugger Joe Hardy, who immediately boosts the Senators' pennant hopes.
  • Overly-Long Gag: Applegate using many coins to contact Lola in the payphone.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Heart", performed by Senators manager Van Buren to his team.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Applegate's clothing usually has a red theme to it. Lola wears some red and has red hair.
  • Reveling in the New Form: Downplayed when middle-aged Joe Boyd gets transformed into ideal ballplayer Joe Hardy — it happens right at the climax of "Goodbye, Old Girl" with the literal Devil rushing him to a cab, so he only gets a moment to marvel in glee at his young, strong new body before he exits offstage. However, the last refrain of the song is much more energetic to reflect Joe's happiness with his new body.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: Applegate mocks Lola's failure to seduce Joe.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: Joe manages to resist Lola's best efforts at vamping him and stays as close as he can to the wife who no longer recognizes him after his transformation into a young baseball hero. His fidelity infuriates Applegate, to whom wives are "more trouble than the Methodist Church."
  • Sold His Soul for a Donut: The premise of the play is that a guy sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for his favorite baseball team winning the pennant. Hilarity Ensues (and drama) when said guy becomes the star of the team as part of the pact.
  • Speak of the Devil: "I'd sell my soul for one long-ball hitter." Cue eerie music and Applegate's entrance.
  • Sports Widow: Meg laments that she loses her husband to the Washington Senators "six months out of every year." Her voice is joined by a chorus of other baseball widows (and their umpire-berating husbands).
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Applegate spreads a rumor by telling Gloria, apropos of nothing, "If you're referring to the rumor that in reality he is Shifty McCoy, I deny it emphatically."
  • Those Two Guys: Sister and Doris Miller.
  • The Vamp: Lola, who states outright that she'll give Joe the "standard vampire treatment" when she seduces him.
  • Villain Love Song: "Whatever Lola Wants"
  • Villain Song: "Those Were the Good Old Days," in which Applegate recalls the days when doing evil was easy.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: about the titular Yankees, because baseball is Serious Business.
  • Villainous Breakdown: When he tries to collect Joe's soul and coax him back into his youth, Joe and Meg manage to resist his powers with their love. This causes Applegate to drop the nice guy act all-together, angrily declaring that he owns Joe and that he was robbed before finally disappearing.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Subverted. Although Joe originally suggests that he be given until midnight on the twenty-fourth of September to exercise his escape clause, Applegate pushes it to "a more civil nine o'clock."
  • Writing Lines: An oral variant. Applegate punishes Lola for her conscientious failure to seduce Joe by asking her to repeat "Never feel sorry for anybody" one hundred times. She repeats the line, but with no show of penitence.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Lola does a striptease while seducing Joe Hardy in "Whatever Lola Wants." Or while trying to seduce him, anyway.