The producers Frederick Brisson, Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince had decided that the lead actress for the part of "Lola" had to be a dancer. They offered the role to both the movie actress Mitzi Gaynor and ballet dancer Zizi Jeanmaire, each of whom turned down the role. Although Gwen Verdon had sung just one song in her previous show (Can-Can), the producers were willing to take a chance on her. She initially refused, preferring to assist another choreographer, but finally agreed. Choreographer Bob Fosse insisted on meeting her before working with her, and after meeting and working for a brief time, they each agreed to the arrangement.
The show opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on May 5, 1955, transferred to the Adelphi Theatre on May 17, 1957, and ran for a total of 1,019 performances. It was directed by George Abbott, with scenery and costumes by William and Jean Eckart, dances and musical numbers staged by Bob Fosse, musical direction by Hal Hastings, orchestrations by Don Walker, and dance music arrangements by Roger Adams.
The show starred Ray Walston (Applegate), Gwen Verdon (Lola), Shannon Bolin (Meg), Robert Shafer (Joe Boyd), Elizabeth Howell (Doris), Stephen Douglass (Joe Hardy), Al Lanti (Henry), Eddie Phillips (Sohovik), Nathaniel Frey (Smokey), Albert Linville (Vernon, Postmaster), Russ Brown (Van Buren), Jimmy Komack (Rocky), Rae Allen (Gloria), Cherry Davis (Teenager), Del Horstmann (Lynch, Commissioner), Richard Bishop (Welch), Janie Janvier (Miss Weston), and Jean Stapleton (Sister).
A West End production played at the London Coliseum beginning on March 28, 1957, where it played for 258 performances. It starred Olympic skater Belita (née Gladys Lyne Jepson-Turner) as Lola, but the Fosse choreography was alien to her style, and she was soon replaced by Elizabeth Seal. It also starred Bill Kerr as Applegate, and Ivor Emmanuel as Joe Hardy.
In the mid-1970s, Vincent Price starred as Applegate in summer stock productions of the show. In the late 1970s and early 1980s film actor Van Johnson did so in productions throughout the U.S.A. In July, 1981, a production was performed at the Jones Beach Marine Theater in Wantagh, New York. It was notable due to former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath being cast in the role of Joe Boyd.
A Broadway revival opened at the Marquis Theatre on March 3, 1994 and ran for 718 performances and 18 previews. Featured were Bebe Neuwirth as Lola and Victor Garber as Applegate. Garber was succeeded by Jerry Lewis, making his Broadway debut, on March 12, 1995, who then starred in a national tour and also played the role in a London production. Jack O'Brien directed, with choreography by Rob Marshall, assisted by his sister, Kathleen. O'Brien is also credited with revisions to the book.
The 1994 revival production opened in the West End at the Adelphi Theatre on June 4, 1997 (previews started May 29) and closed on August 9, 1997. Jerry Lewis reprised his role as Applegate.
A revival was produced by the City Center Encores! Summer Stars series from July 5 to July 27, 2008. It starred Jane Krakowski as Lola, Sean Hayes as Applegate, Randy Graff as Meg, Megan Lawrence as Gloria Thorpe (replacing an injured Ana Gasteyer during rehearsal), PJ Benjamin as Joe Boyd, and Cheyenne Jackson as Joe Hardy. John Rando directed and the original Fosse choreography was reproduced by Mary MacLeod. Given the substantial changes in the 1994 revival, this is considered by some the first authentic revival of the original production.
Note: This is the plot of the 1994 Broadway revival of the show; there are differences from the 1955 version. For the film version, see Damn Yankees (film).
Middle-aged real estate agent Joe Boyd is a long-suffering fan of the pathetic Washington Senators baseball team. His wife, Meg, laments this ("Six Months Out Of Every Year"). After she has gone to bed, he sits up late, grumbling that if the Senators just had a "long ball hitter" they could beat the "damn Yankees. Suddenly, the smooth-talking "Applegate" appears. He offers Joe the chance to become "Joe Hardy", the young slugger the Senators need. He accepts, even though he must leave Meg ("Goodbye Old Girl"). However, his business sense makes him insist on an escape clause. The Senators' last game is on September 25, and if he plays in it, he is to stay as Joe Hardy forever. If not, he has until 9:00 the night before to walk away from the deal and return to his normal life.
At the ballpark, the hapless Senators vow to play their best despite their failings ("Heart"). Then Joe Hardy is suddenly discovered and joins the team. Gloria, a reporter, praises him ("Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo"). His hitting prowess enables the team to move up the standings.
Though Joe is increasingly successful, he truly misses Meg and moves into her house as a boarder in his persona as Joe Hardy. They begin to bond, especially over her "lost" husband ("A Man Doesn't Know"). Fearful of losing his deal, Applegate calls Lola, "the best homewrecker on [his] staff", to seduce Joe and ensure his loss of the bet. She promises to deliver ("A Little Brains, A Little Talent"), and Applegate introduces her as a sultry South American dancer named "Señorita Lolita Banana." She sings a seductive song ("Whatever Lola Wants"), but Joe's devotion to Meg proves too strong, even for her. Applegate punishes her by firing her, where she performs with other past workers for Applegate ("Who's Got the Pain").
Applegate decides to switch tactics to ensure Joe's failure. He releases false information about Joe's true identity being "Shifty McCoy", an escaped criminal and con artist. When Gloria discovers this information, she presses charges, and he is forced into court.
The Senators prepare for the final game against the Yankees for the pennant and worry about Joe, but they vow to think of nothing but winning ("The Game"). Meanwhile, angry fans are seeking him out, so he decides to leave home. As he does so, he tells Meg indirectly that he is her old husband ("Near to You"). Meanwhile, Applegate is exhausted by the work he has put into winning one bet and thinks about the "simpler" times in his long history ("Those Were the Good Old Days").
Joe's day in court is on September 24, the last day of his deal. As he technically does not exist, he can't produce any kind of identification. The owner of the Senators, their coach, and even Lola (disguised as "Señora McCoy") testify; unfortunately, their opinions are invalid. Gloria suggests that Applegate take the stand, but he is unable to take the oath due to its provision against lying. "Don't you have another version of that thing?" he asks. Joe realizes that Applegate is simply stalling to keep him from meeting his 9:00 deadline. Applegate claims that Joe "just needs time to think" and sends him to where Lola is, where history's most famous lovers wait. Lola meets him there and realizes that he truly loves Meg. She helps him by sending him into the final game and delays Applegate by coercing him into a duet ("Two Lost Souls").
When Applegate finally arrives at the game, it is 8:55, and Joe is at bat. As time runs out, Meg, her friends, and even Lola begin cheering for him. Applegate uses his powers to give Joe two strikes. The clock strikes nine, and Applegate claims victory, but at the last second, Joe cries, "Let me go!" The deal is broken, and he is transformed back into his old self. Amazingly, he is still able to hit a home run and win the Senators the pennant.
Back at home, Joe rushes into Meg's arms. Applegate appears on the scene, claiming that Joe owes him his prize. He begs Meg to hold him and not let go, and she begins to sing ("A Man Doesn't Know Reprise"). Applegate promises to make him young again and even ensure a World Series victory. But his powers are useless against their true love, which Lola points out. He shouts that such a thing can't exist, but he is wrong. He and Lola vanish back to whence they came, defeated, with Joe and Meg united.
Based on hand engraved materials originally available from Music Theatre International derived from the 1955 production
Based on 1994 revival
Joe Boyd — A middle-aged, overweight married man who is in love with baseball, especially the Senators [the "older" Joe Hardy]
Joe Hardy — The 22-year-old home run hitting alter ego of Joe Boyd
Lola — The Devil's seductress assistant
Applegate — The Devil in disguise as a slick salesman
Meg Boyd — Joe's loyal, traditional wife
Van Buren — The hard working manager of the Senators with great heart but no luck
Gloria Thorpe — A probing reporter
Rocky — A baseball player for the Senators
Smokey — A "dim bulb" catcher for the Senators
Cherry — A friend of Meg
Doris — A friend of Meg
Sister — A friend of Meg
Mr. Welch — The owner of the Senators
Others: Bouley (also called Ibsen in some productions), Vernon, Henry, Linville, Sohovik, Lowe, Mickey, Del, Miss Weston, and The Commissioner
Baseball players and batboys; Baseball fans' wives
(The original Broadway version also had a children's chorus who sang the reprise of "Heart")
The 1955 Original Broadway Cast recording is on RCA Victor, recorded May 8, 1955. The LP was originally issued in mono but in 1965 RCA Victor offered an electronic stereo version. The current CD edition was released in 1988. RCA Victor also released the film soundtrack in 1958. Although recorded in stereo, only the mono version was released. The 1989 CD edition marked the first release of the recording in stereo. The 1994 Broadway revival cast recording made by Mercury (and now on the Decca Broadway label) was released on May 17, 1994.
A film version, directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, was released in 1958. With the exception of Tab Hunter in the role of Joe Hardy (replacing Stephen Douglass), the Broadway principals reprised their stage roles. It is very similar to the stage version.
A made-for-TV movie version was broadcast on April 8, 1967 on NBC. Phil Silvers played Applegate. Also starring were Lee Remick as Lola and Ray Middleton as Joe Boyd.
It has been announced that a new contemporary film adaptation of the musical will star Jim Carrey as Applegate and Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Hardy.