Tomorrow, I’m giving a talk at Bookworks on Rio Grande.
No, I haven’t written a book. Nor am I signing copies of anything. I’m talking about the Broadway musical Damn Yankees.
The show comes to Popejoy Hall next Friday. I happen to know something about the show, beyond my position as marketing director for Popejoy Hall. I directed Musical Theatre Southwest’s production last summer. I also interviewed the director of the touring production last spring.
Damn Yankees is one of the more interesting shows in the Broadway pantheon. It was the first Broadway musical about baseball to ever succeed. Its composing team, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, were supposed to be the next Rodgers & Hammerstein, so the critics said. But they never wrote another show after Damn Yankees.
I could tell you more about that, but it might make the talk tomorrow pointless.
Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed the intersection of theater history and creativity. How did the personalities involved in Damn Yankees come up with the idea for the show? What difficulties did they encounter? What solutions did they find?
When you delve into the history of specific shows, you often find some fun stories. For example, when Damn Yankees was in its out-of-town tryouts before its Broadway opening, Adler and Ross gave Lola, played by Gwen Verdon, a new song, “A Little Brains, a Little Talent.” The song had a lot of internal rhymes but the ends of the lines didn’t rhyme at all. One pair of lines was “I took the zing out of the King of Siam. I took the starch out of the sails of the Prince of Wales.” Verdon complained that Siam and Wales didn’t rhyme and she couldn’t figure out how to learn the song.
The pressure was on, too. The new song was replacing something else and she had to learn it that morning and perform it for a matinee that afternoon. No matter what she did, she couldn’t get it. Finally, Fosse took her away and said she’d have it in time for the performance. He worked with her on the staging for it and got that ready just in time for the matinee.
When the moment came for her to sing the song, she did so flawlessly. Adler asked Fosse how he’d gotten her through it without an error. “Stage manager behind the curtain,” said Fosse. The stage manager was feeding Gwen her verses. Once she was convinced by the audience reaction that the song worked, she had no trouble performing it.
I hope you’ll come to my talk tomorrow. If you do, you should walk away with an understanding of the show and how it was created. I’ll talk about the hurdles the creators faced and how they overcame them. And I hope you’ll get at least a little idea about the production that’s now touring the country, coming to Popejoy Hall in a week, even though I haven’t seen that production myself.
How will I do that? Come by tomorrow, and we’ll both find out. The talk starts at 3.
Terry S. Davis