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December 22, 2008


‘Pal Joey’ revival bewitches in a dark, seductive way

By Elysa Gardner


NEW YORK – Lock up your wives and daughters: Joey Evans is back in town. And this time, he’s even more of a heel.


The title character of Pal Joey was introduced on Broadway by a young Gene Kelly and later brought to the screen by Frank Sinatra, at the height of his vocal powers. Those familiar with the latter performance may not recognize Joey in Roundabout Theatre Company’s new revival (* * * out of four) of the Rodgers and Hart musical, which opened Thursday at Studio 54.


That’s a reflection less of leading man Matthew Risch’s singing, which is competent – he’s obviously a dancer first, as Kelly was – than Richard Greenberg’s new book. In the film, Joey is basically a decent guy with some rough edges and an aversion to monogamy. All he needs is the right girl to straighten him out.

But John O’Hara’s original libretto cast him in a darker light, and Greenberg has made him shadier still. It’s established early on that Joey’s relentless womanizing has had disturbing consequences, and that his narcissism doesn’t necessarily conceal a heart of gold.


Greenberg also gives us fuller portraits of the women in Joey’s life: hard-bitten showgirl Gladys Bumps, society matron Vera Simpson and sensible ingénue Linda English, who may or may not save Joey’s soul.


All three are sturdily and sympathetically represented under Joe Mantello’s witty direction. Jenny Fellner’s Linda, for all her girlish sweetness, could never be mistaken for a pushover.


At 64, Stockard Channing is about two decades too old for Vera, but she looks terrific and invests the role with the right mix of elegance, grit and world-weariness. Her age also enhances the pathos of the older woman’s lot.


The real revelation, though, is Martha Plimpton’s Gladys. Having acted in a variety of acclaimed dramas, Plimpton reveals a natural flair for musical comedy; Zip, her mock-striptease number, is the closest thing this production has to a showstopper.




To read the full review, click here:   http://www.usatoday.com/life/theater/reviews/2008-12-21-pal-joey_N.htm   

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