New Line taps actors for adaptation of musical

New Line Cinema is playing ball with Jim Carrey and Jake Gyllenhaal on “Damn Yankees,” attaching both actors to star in a contemporized film transfer of the classic musical.

Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel are set to write the script.

The musical is being produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the duo behind New Line’s musical “Hairspray”; a sequel to that film is in the works.

“Damn Yankees,” which bowed on Broadway in 1955 and won seven Tony Awards, focuses on Joe Boyd, a happily married middle-aged man whose devotion to a hapless pro baseball team prompts him to make a Faustian bargain with the devil to help the team. He’s transformed into slugger Joe Hardy, in exchange for Boyd’s soul. Boyd can break the deal, but the deadline occurs during the World Series. For good measure, the devil engages Lola, a gorgeous lost soul, to seduce the slugger and seal his fate.

The plan is for Carrey to play the devil, and Gyllenhaal to play Boyd. It’s the first musical for each.

The producers tried but struck out on a version of “Damn Yankees” five years ago at Miramax, where they made “Chicago.” The rights lapsed after Harvey Weinstein exited that studio. After two years of rights negotiations, “Damn Yankees” is moving forward with Toby Emmerich’s New Line.

The trick is finding a balance that retains the show’s classic tunes like “(You Gotta Have) Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants,” while injecting a contemporary feel on a musical that is firmly rooted in the 1950s. The intention is to get a script from Ganz and Mandel before meeting directors, and actresses who’ll want to play Lola.

The original was directed by George Abbott and choreographed by Bob Fosse, with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and book by Abbott and Douglass Wallop. “Damn Yankees” was turned into a 1958 Warner Bros. film that was directed by Abbott and Stanley Donen, with Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon re-creating their stage performances, and Tab Hunter playing the slugger.

Carrey is coming off “Yes Man” and “I Love You Phillip Morris,” the latter of which premiered at Sundance and is in distribution discussions. Carrey also plays Ebenezer Scrooge and several other roles in “A Christmas Carol,” which Robert Zemeckis directed for Disney in performance capture digital 3-D animation. Carrey also plans to star for director Jason Reitman in “Pierre Pierre” for Fox Searchlight.

Gyllenhaal recently completed the David O. Russell-directed “Nailed,” the Jim Sheridan-directed “Brothers,” and he plays the title role in the Mike Newell-directed “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” for Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer.

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