Sports. It has drama, competition, and emotion. A perfect recipe for a Broadway show. Sports has been the backdrop for many movies, tv shows, and musicals. We will take a look at a few classics and maybe a few not so classics. But nonetheless, the marriage of sports and Broadway has gone on for a very long time, and it’s easy to see why.
Damn Yankees (Baseball)
Perhaps the most classic sports musical ever made, Damn Yankees is a musical comedy with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The story is a modern retelling of the Faust legend set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. It is based on Wallop’s novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.
The show ran for 1,019 performances in its original 1955 Broadway production. Adler and Ross’s success with it and The Pajama Game seemed to point to a bright future for them, but Ross suddenly died of chronic bronchiectasis at age 29 several months after it opened.
Joe Boyd, an aging Washington Senators fan, would sell his soul for the Senators to beat the New York Yankees and win the pennant. Enter Applegate, who offers to turn Boyd into Joe Hardy, a powerful young baseball player, in exchange for his soul. When Boyd agrees, he becomes Hardy and leads the Senators on a winning streak. When he starts to miss his wife, though, and questions the deal, Applegate sends temptress Lola into the mix.
Hey! As a Red Sox fan, I might have considered this after the 2003 season!
Good News (Football)
Another classic Broadway musical, Good News is a musical with a book by Laurence Schwab and B.G. DeSylva, lyrics by DeSylva and Lew Brown, and music by Ray Henderson. The show opened on Broadway in 1927, the same year as Show Boat, but though its plot was decidedly old-fashioned in comparison to Show Boat’s daring storyline, it was also a hit. Good News spawned two films, an unsuccessful 1974 Broadway revival, and a 1993 updated production by Music Theatre of Wichita, which created a largely new libretto and made changes to the score, It proved to be DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson’s biggest hit out of a string of topical musicals.
World War I is over, the Roaring Twenties have arrived, women have won the right to vote, and college campuses, such as fictional Tait College, are as much a social scene as an academic one. Football is the big game, and star player Tom Marlowe is a prime catch. All the girls are interested in Tom, and vice-versa, although one society climber seems to have him in hand. Studious part-time school librarian Connie Lane doesn’t seem to have a chance and stays out of the fray. When Marlowe fails a final exam, he needs a tutor to help him pass so he can play in the big game on Saturday. Connie is selected to help keep his nose to the grindstone, and the two fall for each other. The couples’ romance can only endure if the team wins the big game.
Golden Boy (Boxing)
Golden Boy is a 1964 musical with a book by Clifford Odets and William Gibson, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. The Broadway production was directed by Arthur Penn, choreographed by Donald McKayle, and starred Sammy Davis Jr and opened on October 20, 1964 at the Majestic Theatre, where it ran for 568 performances and twenty-five previews.
Based on the 1937 play of the same name by Odets, it focuses on Joe Wellington, a young man from Harlem who, despite his family’s objections, turns to prizefighting as a means of escaping his ghetto roots and finding fame and fortune. He crosses paths with Mephistopheles-like promoter Eddie Satin and eventually betrays his manager Tom Moody when he becomes romantically involved with Moody’s girlfriend Lorna Moon. In Odets’ original book, Joe was a sensitive would-be surgeon fighting in order to pay his way through college, but careful to protect his hands from serious damage so he could achieve his goal of saving the lives of blacks ignored by white doctors. In an ironic twist, the hands he hoped would heal kill a man in the ring.
Magic/Bird is a play by Eric Simonson about basketball stars Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, their rise from college basketball to the NBA and super stardom, and eventually the Olympic Dream Team, their team and personal rivalries and ultimately their long-running friendship. The play premiered on Broadway at the Longacre Theater on March 21, 2012. It has the full support of the NBA with Johnson and Bird prominently supportive. And, according to the producers: “At the heart of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports, two of the greatest athletes of all-time battled for multiple championships and the future of their sport…Johnson and Bird, went head to head, electrified the nation, reinvigorated the NBA, and turned their rivalry into the greatest and most famous friendships in professional sports. With classic NBA footage prominently designed throughout, Magic/Bird transports the audience into the heart of their matchup.