DAMN YANKEES, Shubert Theatre. This 1955 musical, created by director-playwright George Abbott and Brill Building tunesmiths Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, is quintessential post-World War II Joe Sixpack Americana–brash, loud, and schmaltzy. So 50s clown prince Jerry Lewis would seem an inspired choice to star in this Broadway (now touring) revival as Mr. Applegate, the devil to whom aging baseball fan Joe Boyd sells his soul in return for youth and fame as a star batter for the Washington Senators. But here Lewis isn’t the inventive if over-the-top comedian of movies such as My Friend Irma and The Nutty Professor; he’s the smarmy headliner of too many Vegas and Miami showrooms, strolling through his material without an ounce of involvement. In the first third of the show this isn’t too troublesome, as the gag-filled script (revised by director Jack O’Brien), slapstick choreography (by Rob Marshall), and earnest, well-sung performances by Dennis Kelly (old Joe) and gorgeous David Elder (young Joe) keep the ball rolling.
But Damn Yankees enters a seventh-inning slump. Valerie Wright as Lola, the temptress summoned to keep Joe on the road to hell, fails to strike the required sexual sparks; then Lewis takes center stage for an irrelevant burlesque routine that the show never recovers from. Yes, Lewis draws crowds that don’t normally go to the theater–from “Jerry’s Orphans,” the disabled activists who picketed last week’s opening to protest Lewis’s maudlin muscular-dystrophy telethons, to the suckers who howled at the arthritic Polish, gay, and rabbi jokes in Lewis’s stand-up set. But Lewis’s Damn Yankees should be picketed for aesthetic as well as political sins.