For years there’s been talk of doing a remake of Damn Yankees, and now that they finally have a cast in place, with Jake Jake Gyllenhaal as the Faust figure who sells his soul to the devil to be a baseball player and Jim Carrey as Satan (typecasting!), they’ve waited so long that the plot setup will have to be changed: since the Yankees no longer win every year, they can’t really make a musical about someone who sells his soul for a chance to beat the Yankees. But they can’t change the title either, because, well, what’s the point. So it’ll be interesting to see what veteran writers Lowell Ganz and “Babaloo” Mandel (who haven’t actually written a good script in years, and who lose extra baseball-comedy points for being responsible for Fever Pitch) make of it.
This is actually a good property to remake. It’s got name recognition, it’s got several recognizable hit songs, it lends itself to updating because most of the story is not very era-specific, and it’s also a subject that lends itself to location shooting (many musicals do not work if you take them outdoors). The original movie is well-known, but it’s not so good that it can’t be improved upon: it kept nearly all of the stage cast (like the movie version of the previous show by the same people, The Pajama Game) and the stage director, George Abbott, leading to an authentic Broadway feel but also a certain staginess and a lack of movie glamour. (By being so faithful to the stage play it retained some of the flaws of the stage play, like the fact that the female lead, Lola, doesn’t appear in the show until it’s almost half over.) It also cut some good songs from the play, like the raunchy “The Game.” A new movie with a bigger budget and a less stage-bound feel could actually work, done right. (They’d have to go back to the source novel, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” for some additional ideas that weren’t used in the play, and drop a few songs that aren’t relevant to the story, like “Who’s Got the Pain?,” which only worked because Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse needed a specialty number in the second act.)
Also, this subject has new relevance because of the steroid era. The story of a man who literally sells his soul for the chance to become a great baseball player, and leads his team to victory with supernatural enhancement, has all kinds of potential parallels to what’s been going on in baseball for the last decade or two.
I’m pretty sure Carrey can handle the one song in his role (it was written for Ray Walston, not exactly a classically-trained vocalist); I have no idea if the Guy Gyllenhaal can sing, but I guess he’ll learn.