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“Damn Yankees” Offers a Devilishly Clever Musical Take on Life in the 1950s

Kevin Graft

The company of Damn Yankees produced by Music Circus.

Kevin Graft

August is prime baseball season, and Sacramento’s Music Circus is staging “Damn Yankees,” a Broadway classic about a losing team that suddenly starts winning, with the aid of a little supernatural intervention.

The musical is from 1955, before baseball stars had multimillion-dollar contracts. But baseball fans, then and now, tend to be paunchy middle-aged men like Joe Boyd, who appears in the first scene venting his frustration by talking back to his black-and-white TV.

TV announcer: He swings and misses, strike two!

Joe: Ah, strike, you’re nuts!

Joe declares he’d sell his soul if he could see his favorite team, the dismal Washington Senators, beat the hated New York Yankees. And faster than you can say Mephistopheles, the devil materializes, tempting Joe with a deal.

Joe is transformed into a muscular, charismatic young prospect who smashes home runs. The desperate Senators sign him to a contract, and within minutes, Joe has the whole team believing they can take the World Series if they just maintain a winning attitude. This is a musical, after all.

But of course, the Devil aims to claim Joe’s soul, so he tempts Joe with a sexy and very available woman. This being a show from the 1950s, she’s naturally a Latin temptress, singing a sultry tango.

This 1950s musical brims with sexual innuendo, as did the previous Music Circus show, “9 to 5,” rooted in the 1970s. The difference is that a newer show like “9 to 5” titillates the audience with naughty words we need to edit out on radio. 

A ‘50s show like “Damn Yankees” teases you in a different way, like this storytelling number by a randy ballplayer, telling the eager guys in the locker room about the floozy he invited to his hotel suite:

“She kills a pint of gin, more or less. The lights are low, as she slips off her dress… (turning resolute) But then I thought about The Game! The Game! Though I got the lady high, I left her high and dry! Because I thought about The Game!”

“Damn Yankees” hails from a more innocent age (nod-nod, wink-wink). Even the seductive Lola develops a heart of gold, helping straight-arrow Joe escape the devil’s clutches so he can return to domestic bliss with his wife of 30 years.

It’s been 14 years since the Music Circus staged this old chestnut. And there are fewer and fewer folks under 40 familiar with “Damn Yankees.” But the old score still packs harmonic punch, several songs are toe-tappers, and the old-school humor has retro appeal. There’s also lots of excellent dancing.

Folks who’ve seen the show before won’t find many surprises. But this production is a pleasant way to pass a warm summer evening. And for those experiencing “Damn Yankees” for the first time, it makes for a good initiation.

The Music Circus production of “Damn Yankees” continues through Sunday at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento. 

NPR wrote about the death of songwriter Richard Adler in 2012, half of the team that wrote “Damn Yankees.”

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Jeff Hudson

Contributing Arts Reporter and Theatre Critic

Jeff Hudson has been contributing arts-related stories to Capital Public Radio since 1995, with an emphasis on theater and classical music. He attends over 100 performances annually, ranging from modern musicals to medieval masses.   Read Full Bio 

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