D: George Abbott C: Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston
Musicals seldom start with a showstopper, and if they do, they usually work their way down. This one does, and then just gets better. It’s not a great production number, a man in a chair watching a game, totally oblivious to his wife’s griping about the “six months every year” during the baseball season, when “she might as well be made of stone”, the husband providing the chorus: “Yer blind Ump, Yer blind Ump, Ya mus’ be out-a yer mind, Ump!” As you may have gathered, the local team, the Washington Senators, isn’t winning – those DAMNED YANKEES are! There is a remedy for that, however, as the Devil suggests, materializing on his porch, and he may be it as a young athlete and the greatest ballplayer in the history of the sport, all he has to do – well, you know. Being an insurance salesman himself, he insists on an escape clause: at a certain date, he may choose to render the contract null and void. His wife isn’t exactly devastated by his absence – after all, these are the “six months” – even though “there’s something about an empty chair”. It seems that she’s mislaid her husband, feeling a bit sentimental about it. In the meantime, the coach of the Senators is giving the team a rousing pep-talk, reminiscent of Jimmy Durante’s “The Song’s Gotta Come from the Heart”: “Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course But keep that old horse Before the cart First you’ve gotta have heart”. Then, of course, “Joe Hardy” shows up out of nowhere, slugging the ball out of the park, and the team is on its way to the pennant! Making sure that Joe doesn’t go back to his loving wife, the Devil dusts off an old femme fatale. “Whatever Lola wants Lola gets And little man, Little Lola wants you”. In spite of a song and dance proving Gwen Verdon to be a great comedienne as well, Joe is not impressed. Assuming the more fitting role of an adulating fan, she puts on a show in his honor, including the breathtaking “Who’s Got the Pain?” Of course, the Devil manages to distract Joe long enough to make him forget the escape clause. Having passed the expiration date, Joe and Lola, now deeply in love, sing the musical’s best number, “Two Lost Souls”, in a defiant celebration of life, involving the entire chorus. “Two lost souls on the highway of life, We ain’t even got a sister or brother Ain’t it just great, ain’t it just grand? We’ve got each other!” The Devil having now won, he still can’t resist adding insult to injury, changing Joe back in the middle of the final game, thus having himself broken the contract, enabling him to go back to his wife. DAMN YANKEES is not only a testimony to the professionalism and showmanship sadly missing today. It is a masterpiece, being at the same time funny and tragic, flashy and profound, as true art should be.
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