It’s 1955, and baseball addict Joe Boyd (Dennis Kelly) cringes at his home team Washington Senators forever losing, especially to the New York Yankees. He vows he’d trade his soul for a good hitter for his team. Enter the devil (Jerry Lewis), Applegate, who turns him into young Joe Hardy (David Elder) and gets him on the team.
The touring version of “Damn Yankees” has all the flair and production values of the Broadway version, and has star Jerry Lewis — to the delight of his fans — much looser and more “Jerry” than when he opened in the show. It’s an old-fashioned musical performed with zest and with imaginative choreography and direction. For the most part, Lewis tosses off his lines and dozens of corny jokes about hell with aplomb. When he adds double, triple, quintuple takes, mugging and milking facial expressions, or when he goes into his high-voiced Lewis of old (“Laaa-dy!”), the audience cheers. To paraphrase a line in his solo song, it’s a hammy routine, but it plays.
In the middle of that song, “Those Were the Good Old Days,” he stops the music and performs a brief standup routine as he tries to catch a cane — a distraction into Catskills shtick that works well.
Cast members, many of them from the Broadway production, drive each scene with spirit. Valerie Wright, taking over as the seductress Lola from Bebe Neuwirth on Broadway, provides charm and sexiness — and a great voice and dance talent.
Kelly and Elder give the most touching moments with their songs of yearning, “Goodbye, Old Girl” and “Near to You,” the latter with Susan Bigelow as Joe’s wife Meg. Elder makes young Joe believably naive and true.
Linda Gabler imbues Gloria, a sports writer, with much spunk, stealing a few scenes.
Director Jack O’Brien has adeptly reworked and restaged the play to allow for rapid scene changes and to place more perspective on the 1950s. While the play was never designed as an emotional stunner, O’Brien and choreographer Rob Marshall make it wonderfully entertaining.
Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ lyrics and music still come across with vigor, and the live orchestra — though they hadn’t rehearsed with the cast before opening night — was tight and professional.
Many kudos should go to the production and lighting staff, who keep a complex show running smoothly. Jonathan Deans’ set design provides plunging perspectives and a sense of fun to the Futura ’50s. David Segal’s lighting lends warmth to the huge Pasadena stage, and David Woolard’s costumes, especially for Lola and Gloria, display cleverness and style.
After Sunday, the production moves into Orange County for a week.