Theatre / Devil's tunes

Damn Yankees / Adelphi, London

Damn Yankees may be a variation on the Faust theme, but such details don't stop it from exuding the innocent optimism marketed in mid-Fifties America when this Adler/ Ross/ Abbott musical was a big hit. You'd get about as strong a sense of sulphurous evil from any episode of I Love Lucy. That, though, is part of this show's potent appeal.

Having made a career out of being showbusiness's manic answer to the missing link, a bronzed, blazered Jerry Lewis strolls into Jack O'Brien's highly enjoyable revival and is so laid back, he's spread-eagled. We're talking Jack Benny rather than Jim Carrey, Lewis's heir. The star is playing the devil who enters into a Faustian pact with Joe Boyd (Dennis Kelly), a grey, paunchy estate agent and baseball nut: in return for his soul, Joe will be transformed into a youthful star-hitter who can lead his bungling local team to victory over the New York Yankees.

For much of the first half, you may feel that Lewis's contribution is more an extended personal appearance than a performance. The camp, relaxed drollery has its moments of genuine comedy ("I'm so angry I could split a hoof," he announces, peeved at the high principles of his victim; that line, hinting that here we have a Jewish devil, is typical of the tongue- in-cheek wit of the script). But the lazy assurance of this superannuated swinger of a Satan could be mistaken at times for the smugness of a star smoothly coasting on his legend.

The second half suggests, however, that this relaxed approach is a clever piece of calculation, for it makes it all the more elatingly hilarious when Lewis finally achieves escape/ velocity and goes into triumphant take-off in a 15-minute stand-up set that's cheekily wedged into the middle of his big number "Those Were the Good Old Days", milking maximum comedy from that old routine where the performer can catch canes thrown to him from the wings, but not the ones he tosses into the air. Lewis pretends to cover up for his incompetence with a string of blissfully, shamelessly ancient gags involving nuns, Jews, and Polish bobsleigh teams that quite rightly stops the show.

Lewis is only one of the many reasons for seeing this revival. Performed with a slam-bang professionalism, the production - with its spare, wittily nostalgic sets and its exuberantly comic choreography - makes the musical's point: that you can be knowing without being cynical. One of the baseball players' dances is a delicious parody of the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers style of choric virility, while the show's biggest number, "You gotta have heart/ All you really need is heart", manages to keep its sentiments intact, even while demonstrating that you need a great deal more than heart to sock across those climbing harmonies and that charmingly goofy naivete. The staging here even has the players gargling the tune as they take a shower.

The show is strongly cast. As Lola, the devil's sexy sidekick, April Nixon has, to quote the song, her aces in all the right places - notably her legs, which, in one cod-strip routine, achieve anatomical impossibilities, making Cyd Charisse's pins look a shade stunty and unadventurous. There are attractive, finely sung performances, too, from Ellen Grosso as a gutsy reporter, John-Michael Flate as the rejuvenated Joe and Joy Franz as the middle-aged wife he chooses - thanks to a convenient escape clause in the pact - to return to. Sentimental? Sure, but what the hell?: Damn Yankees is damn good.

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

    £200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

    Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

    £18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

    All Primary NQT's

    £100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

    Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star