When “Damn Yankees” opened last March, I noted that Jack O’Brien’s TV-screen-embellished staging of the revival reminded me of another ’50s-era work, Gore Vidal’s “Visit to a Small Planet.” Perhaps someone took note: The man who starred in the film version of that play is now set to take over the role of Applegate, the Devil, in “Damn Yankees,” and on Jan. 4 at Sardi’s Jerry Lewis clowned for the cameras and sparred semi-good-naturedly with reporters to promote the show, which will mark the 69-year-old actor’s Broadway debut. (The show has shut down while Lewis rehearses, and he’s slated to begin performances Feb. 28.)
Asked how long he plans to stay with the show, Lewis dead-panned, “It’s none of your goddamned business,” but he’s expected to stay beyond the initial eight-week commitment and tour if the notices are good and the box office responds. The closest Lewis has come to Broadway before was a 1977 re-working of “Hellzapoppin,” which flopped out of town.
The comedian seemed non-plused when a reporter asked if he can sing. Pausing for a moment, he listed the number of albums he’s made, not to mention his performances during the muscular dystrophy telethon he hosts every Labor Day. Narrowing his gaze on his questioner, Lewis asked, “Have I sung before? What, do you live in a cave?”