Back in the 1950s, it was an entertaining notion to imagine Major League Baseball as a world where record-breaking sluggers could appear overnight, selling their souls for the ability to crush a baseball in a world where those damn Yankees win every year. Now, Jim Carrey and Jake Gyllenhaal are attached to a remake of one of the all-time classic movie musicals — and although the filmmaker has big plans for an update, he’s quick to point out that the plot of “Damn Yankees” is actually more plausible in today’s world.
“If a character like Joe Hardy — who’s the character in ’Damn Yankees’ — sprung out of nowhere and was hitting 70 home runs in a season, who would not think immediately ’steroids’?” said writer/director Todd Graff, who has cast Gyllenhaal in the Tab Hunter role of a baseball fan who sells his soul to become the greatest player. “So [steroids] is not even a side character for us; it’s our main character. No one is going to think, ’Oh, it’s because he made a deal with the devil!’ They’d think, ’He’s juicing!’ ”
Graff recently masterminded the much-better-than-you’ve-heard teen rock flick “Bandslam,” which hits DVD next week, and is a massive fan of two things: musicals and baseball.
“[’Damn Yankees’ will be] a big, movie-star movie,” the Mets fan explained of the flick, remembering a time when he had to sell himself to the producers. “I said, ’Listen, there may be writer/directors out there who know more about musicals … there may be writer/directors out there who know more about baseball, but I guarantee you, there is no writer/director out there that knows more about musicals and more about baseball and hates the Yankees as much as I do.’ ”
But just because he’s remaking a story that ran for 1,000 performances on Broadway in 1955 and became a hit 1958 movie doesn’t mean Graff won’t be tweaking the “Damn Yankees” story quite a bit.
“The original was about the Washington Senators, who obviously don’t exist anymore,” Graff said of one major update that will undoubtedly please the fans of a Chicago team that has gone 102 years without a championship. “Now, the most obvious candidate is the Cubs.
“It is going to be set now, and my whole pitch was that it should feel like ’Jerry Maguire’ with songs,” Graff explained. “It should really feel like the real world of a major sports franchise and what would happen with this fantastical goofy, funny idea of a baseball fanatic who sold his soul to Jim Carrey as the devil in order to be turned into a 20-year-old Joe Mauer.”
Graff is planning to hold on to only a handful of the original songs and having new ones composed — including one possibly about, yep, steroids.
“There will definitely be about five or six new songs,” Graff revealed. “[We’ll keep] some of the originals, but we’ll jettison some of the originals, and we’ll write some more new stuff.”
For fans of the original, however, don’t worry: The sexy, signature tune “Whatever Lola Wants” isn’t going anywhere.
“It’ll be in there,” he assured, saying he’s currently looking to cast his Lola.
One thing that won’t be in the new “Damn Yankees,” however, is Bob Fosse’s famed choreography. “I think it’d be a mistake [to keep that],” Graff said. “They did that in ’Chicago,’ so it’s been done. His stuff was brilliant, his sensibility was very hard-edged and cynical, and I think what we’re going for is more of a muscular, athletic, youthful, sexy movie. We’re going to be less brittle, less razzle-dazzly and aim to knock your socks off with the athleticism.”
Graff is rewriting the script to get it ready for production — and to help get in the right state of mind, he’s heading to a spring rite of passage shared by thousands of other die-hard fans. “I’m going to spring training; that will affect the way I write it,” he said. “I’m going to Tempe to watch the Cubs spring training, hang out and talk to everybody. I’m going to soak it all up, get all the details right, the behind-the-curtain stuff, which is going to be kind of awesome.”
Are you excited for the “Damn Yankees” remake? Have you seen the original? Let us know!
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