Damn Yankees is one of the only successful musical comedies built around the American national pastime of baseball. The musical combines a baseball story with the age-old Faustian theme, with book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The original story was set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. In the early days of Broadway playwrights and producers repeatedly tried to create hit shows with a baseball theme, however, they all flopped at the box office. From those early days any show about baseball was considered to be jinxed and for the next sixty years or so, no show was produced with America’s favorite pastime in the story line. The Faust legend however, one of the most popular stories in world literature, about a man’s willingness to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for the realization of a dream has inspired playwrights, poets, filmmakers and novelists since the 16th century with great success. Author Douglass Wallop combined these two themes in his novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant in 1954. Decades before Field of Dreams and other baseball fables, the book was a best seller and is still considered to be one of the greatest baseball novels of all time.
Inspired by Wallop’s novel, Abbott, Adler and Ross teamed up with the author to turn his novel into a musical. The show opened on Broadway on May 5, 1955 and ran for a total of 1,019 performances, won eight Tony Awards including the award for Best Musical, permanently busting the old myth! The original production of Damn Yankees was produced by Harold (Hal) Prince, with George Abbott as director; the choreographer was Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon starred as Lola. This role made her a star.
In addition to its successful run on Broadway, it was immediately followed by a national tour and a film version from Warner Bros. in 1958. In 1994, the play was revived on Broadway in a production that featured comedy legend Jerry Lewis in a leading role.
Jerry Ross and Richard Adler first met in 1950 and as a duo they became protégés of the great composer/lyricist/publisher Frank Loesser. Their song "Rags to Riches" was recorded by Tony Bennett and reached number 1 on the charts in 1953. Adler and Ross began their career in the Broadway Theater with John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, a revue for which they provided most of the songs. Adler and Ross followed up with their two hits The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, both of which won Tony Awards for Best Musical. The duo had authored the music and lyrics for three great Broadway successes in three years and had seen over a half-dozen of their songs reach the U.S. top ten, two of them peaking at #1. Unfortunately, their partnership came to an end when Jerry Ross suddenly died of chronic bronchiectasis, at the age of twenty-nine, a few months after Damn Yankees opened.
The Ogunquit Playhouse has put a new twist on the old tale – the baseball action moves from Washington D.C. to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox and brings the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox off the field and on to the stage! To fuel the decades old rivalry between the two veteran teams and to pay homage to Fenway’s 100th Anniversary, Tony Award winning playwright Joe DiPietro has updated the book for the Ogunquit production. Under special agreement with the George Abbott estate and Music Theater International, the Ogunquit Playhouse has made special arrangements to take a fresh look at Damn Yankees. This concept was originally explored by North Shore Music Theatre in 2006 with Joe DiPietro. For the 80th Anniversary, the Ogunquit Playhouse reunited DiPietro with the Boston Red Sox and Damn Yankees and this time he collaborated with famed song and dance man Jeffry Denman as Director/Choreographer and Ken Clifton as Music Director. This team has put together a brand new version of Damn Yankees featuring the Boston Red Sox created exclusively for the Ogunquit Playhouse.