By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
What sports fan hasn’t dreamed of magically being turned into a star, world-beating athlete?
That reverie, and the complications that would ensue if it ever came true are at the heart of the musical comedy “Damn Yankees” opening this weekend at the Gem Theatre on Main Street in Garden Grove.
“Yankees” was written by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop (music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross) and is based on a novel by Wallop called “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.”
When the play opened on Broadway in 1955, the Yankees were in the midst of their greatest domination of major league baseball. The play’s protagonist – Joe Boyd – is a middle-aged fan of the perpetually hapless Washington Senators.
He makes a deal with the Devil to become long-ball hitter Joe Hardy, and thereby hangs a tale. His prodigious home runs ignite the Senators into the thick of the American League pennant race, but of course, it’s not quite that simple.
Joe begins to have second thoughts about giving up his soul, so The Devil sends in his top homewrecker, the sexy and high-kicking vamp, Lola, to seal the deal and keep Joe from backing out
“Yankees” was made into a 1958 film and has been revived (and sometimes updated) several times. A new film version starring Jim Carrey as The Devil and Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Boyd/Hardy is said to be in the planning stages.
One More Productions’ Damien Lorton will direct the local staging of “Yankees,” which will open tonight (Thursday) and continue Thursdays through Sundays to Oct. 24.
The play features a number of musical highlights, including the oft-repeatred “Heart” as well as the sexy ‘Whatever Lola Wants.”
“Damn Yankees” is one in a long tradition of baseball fantasies on stage and in film. “It Happens Every Spring” was the 1949 story of a college physics professor (played by Ray Milland) who invents a substance that avoids contact with wood. By rubbing it on a baseball, he becomes an ace pitcher for St. Louis.
“Angels in the Outfield” was a 1951 film about heavenly intervention for the Pittsburgh Pirates; it was remade in 1994 with the then-California Angels.
In 1993, “Rookie of the Year” features a 12-year-old boy whose finds that after his arm heals from an injury, his arm is amazingly strong, which lands him a spot on the Chicago Cubs pitching staff.
There was even an “Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch” film in which a golden retriever pinch hits for the then-Anaheim Angels.
Not all fantasies are about playing. In 1994 (a big year for fantasy, I guess) a 12-year-old boy inherits the Minnesota Twins and makes himself the manager in “Little Big League.”
With the Angels and the Dodgers finishing way out of the playoffs this year, “Damn Yankees” may be the most satisfying baseball you can find around these parts.