Baseball and musicals are two purely American institutions, so why not put them together, reasoned songwriters Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The year was 1955, and they had just struck gold with The Pajama Game, so Broadway was eager to see what they would come up with next.
Improbably — in the way that most ideas for musicals seem improbable until they work — they became enamored of a Douglass Wallop novel, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, which devilishly added the Faust legend into the mix.
As fans of musicals know, the result was Damn Yankees, a Tony Award-winning show that continues to entertain audiences to this day, as the sprightly and heartfelt production currently at Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre demonstrates.
For what sports-loving couch potato hasn’t said, at least figuratively, that he would sell his soul to see his team finish on top? And in case you have no interest in sports, the show also features an enduring love story between a middle-aged baseball fan and the wife he deserts when offered the chance to become Joe Hardy (athletic Jeffrey Keller), a 22-year-old slugger with the baseball skills to lead his woeful Washington Senators to a pennant over those blankety-blank Yankees.
That transformation — for an eternal price — is realized by satanic, smarmy Mr. Applegate (a scenery-chewing Wayne LeGette), who favors pyrotechnic tricks and progressively accessorizes in red.
But when Joe remains fixated on the wife he left behind (an aptly understated Aaron Bower), Applegate brings in his designated hitter, Senorita Lolita Banana (a hubba-hubba Lauren Weinberg).
While the show was already going well, it kicks into high gear with Weinberg’s entrance as she raises the theater’s ambient temperature by several degrees. Her showstopping seduction striptease, “Whatever Lola Wants,” is both sexy and funny, and she even scores with an irrelevant mambo number, “Who’s Got the Pain.”
Veteran director Jeffrey B. Moss channels the show’s Eisenhower-era sensibilities, which was a golden age for Broadway, The Adler-Ross score is loaded with songs that became stand-alone hits, such as “Two Lost Souls,” “Near to You” and particularly the team’s anthem, “Heart,” which keeps getting reprised and eventually becomes a curtain call sing-along.
Choreographer Jerel Brown provides some muscular production numbers. The Senators ensemble may not be able to play baseball, but they sure can dance. Other standout supporting performers include Mychal Phillips as nosy reporter Gloria Thorpe and Paul Louis as the team’s hapless but heart-filled manager.
Visually the production hits a home run, thanks to Johnne Blessed’s eye-popping pop art backdrops and Josieu T. Jean’s archival projections. The evening’s only liability is the Wick’s continued insistence on using recorded music tracks.
Damn Yankees has been on deck at the Wick for a few seasons, sidelined by COVID and caution. But better late than never, the show on view now through March 26 is well worth the wait.
DAMN YANKEES, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, March 26. $79-$99. 561-995-2333 or visit thewick.org.