Richard Rogers; lyrics: Lorenz Hart. Book: Richard Greenberg adapting John O’Hara libretto and stories. Director, Joe Mantello; music director, Paul Gemignani; Choreography, Graciela Daniele. Set, Scott Pask.
New York, Roundabout at Studio 54.
What Men Want (Then and Now)
“Pal Joey” is so familiar it can’t be seen again, but is so wonderful you need to see it each time it comes around. Remind yourself it is produced this time for new (yes, younger) audiences; and that it was not copied by the movie, an utterly different event. For one thing, the affair between Joey and the rich woman who backs him is at the center of a big picture. After all, it starred the glamorous Rita Hayworth as Vera Simpson, and several scenes were written for her. On stage, Stockard Channing plays a shorter version of the role–not that it suffers. Otherwise, Ms. Channing seems to play down the part– not that thick to begin with, after all. She is the opposite physical type to Martha Plimpton playing the vaudeville stripper Gladys Bumps, all part of the plan. Her big number, “Zip,” generates more than enough show biz heat and sex appeal for the entire play.
The thing is if the production and pace are not fast and sexy the piece doesn’t work The center of the message is a twist on theater about theater, or specifically, how a show gets made. A rich backer, a man in the olden days, goes berserk about a show girl whom he makes a star. In the current twist on the plot a wealthy widow stakes a boy talent, Frank Sinatra in the film, to a night club called Chez Joey, while he for the sake of his ego imagines himself to be utterly independently successful. A boy does not want his big win to be owed to anyone, especially a beautiful woman willing to give him everything if only he’d be nice to her. He, however, really wants to be nice to a slightly overweight blonde with a dim smile trying to get in the business with her heart-of-the-girl-back-home undamaged. Oh, really. He grabs his trench coat and fedora in one hand, the blonde in the other and heads off to the land of dreams. So much for the value of beautiful, wealthy women. It’s sad.