Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
in association with Marc Platt
Rodgers & Hart’s
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
New Book by Richard Greenberg
Based on the original Book by John O’Hara
254 West 54th Street
Stockard Channing, Matthew Risch
Robert Clohessy, Nadine Isseneger, Kathryn Mowat Murphy,
Lisa Gajda, Jenny Fellner, Brian Barry, Timothy J. Alex,
Anthony Holds, Eric Sciotto, Steven Skybell, Daniel Marcus,
Hayley Podschun, Mark Morettini
And an ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers and Club Patrons
Directed by Joe Mantello
Choreography by Graciela Daniele
Musical Direction by Paul Gemignani
Set Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Paul Gallo
Sound Design: Tony Meola
Hair and Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Makeup Design: Angelina Avallone
Production Stage Manager: Tripp Phillips
Orchestrations: Don Sebesky
Dance Arrangements: Eric Stern
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA &
Bernard Telsey Casting, Inc.
Technical Supervisor: Steve Beers
Executive Producer: Sydney Beers
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Director of Marketing & Sales: David B. Steffen
Associate Director: Barbara Rubin
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Associate Artistic Director: Scott Ellis
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 11, 2009
I’ve often commented on the importance of a successful musical’s tunes to replay in my mind, over and over, long after seeing the show. As for Roundabout Theatre Company’s Pal Joey, at Studio 54, I couldn’t mentally replay a tune, if I consciously tried, one hour after the last song was over. In fact, Stockard Channing’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, the song that drew me to the show, was forgettable, while it was still being sung. Ms. Channing sang her show-stopping tune with heavy breathing and pregnant pauses, in Act I and again in Act II. Most of today’s performances were disappointing, as this Rodgers & Hart show is defined by its sassy energy, its 1930’s Chicago ambiance. Even as I arrived for today’s matinee, this Pal Joey is already set to close March 1. And, to borrow a title from one of its tunes, “I Still Believe In You” (See closing comments).
Pal Joey (which originally opened on Broadway in 1940) has only a few main characters, Joey (Matthew Risch), a nightclub singer/dancer/entertainer, who finds an older, unhappily married woman, Vera Simpson (Stockard Channing), with her philandering husband’s bank account in her bag. The owner of the “cheap club on the south side of Chicago”, Mike (Robert Clohessy), treats his show girls and guys with disdain and bravado. Gladys Bumps (Martha Plimpton), who had been “knocked up” by Joey years ago, arrives at Mike’s Club with an attitude. As the scenes unfold, Gladys and Joey create friction, with sparks flying. In the midst of Joey’s well-rewarded seduction of Vera Simpson (who buys out Mike and turns the Club into Chez Joey, with Mike as a waiter and Joey as the Proprietor and Host), Joey is conflicted about his loyalty to Linda English (Jenny Fellner), new in town, whom he had met at a bar and quietly, like a cat, had seduced and abandoned. Linda works at the haberdashery, where Vera shops for Joey’s tuxes and suits, and some humor and music ensue, Joey’s “What Do I Care for a Dame?” and Vera’s second “Bewitched…”.
Martha Plimpton and Stockard Channing are two versatile, dynamo performers, who seemed restrained in their own skin, with unrealized dramatic power. Ms. Plimpton’s “Zip”, sung once at Chez Joey, in a raincoat and then lingerie, was a song about stripping, an imaginary interview with Gypsy Rose Lee. At this point, Scene 3, Act II, it was too late to turn the energy and revive the show. Ms. Plimpton has a great voice, stunning stage presence, and charisma crying for the right role. Ms. Channing’s sultry fadeouts, in Joey’s secret apartment, “In Our Little Den of Iniquity”, and in her bedroom, “Bewitched…..” (the first of three), gave her that Elizabeth Taylor aura, like Cleopatra on her very own throne, with glaring eyes that gazed into eternity. Yet, again, these moments were free-standing, unconnected to the gestalt.
So, now there’s Joey, with Matthew Risch standing in for Christian Hoff, who sustained an early rehearsal injury. Mr. Risch has a winning face, an arresting attitude, a way with words, and a way with women. But, he looks too young and sings off-key. This was no accident, as each and every one of Joey’s songs fell flat, and, if you remember, this was Sinatra’s role in the 1957 film. Mr. Risch has a bright future in drama and comedy, on or off Broadway, and he has dance potential as well. But, as the leading man, Pal Joey himself, I wonder why he was the initial understudy, in this big town with so many bright and rising stars. Couldn’t Juilliard have come to the rescue? This is Broadway, and rising stars would travel the globe for such a break! One rising star, in the ensemble, caught my eye, Nadine Isenegger, a dancer with personality plus. Jenny Fellner held her own, as the ingénue, who never gave up on Joey, and, in another show, will have the opportunity to blossom vocally and persuasively.
Joe Mantello directed with surprising contrasts in timing and tone, while Graciela Daniele choreographed with attention to the compact stage and its crowded sets. Scott Pask’s black, metal staging was perfectly conceived, designed for dark, smoky music, but less could have been more. William Ivey Long’s showgirl costumes were wonderful, especially in “The Flower Garden of My Heart”, really adorable, and should have been show-stopping, but again, this was the top of Act II. In Act I, “Happy Hunting Horn”, with Joey and the Girls, had the ensemble in black veils and costumes that resembled a Fellini lineup, so surreal, but could have been stunning. Paul Gallo’s dim lighting was nicely nuanced, and Tony Meola’s sound never overwhelmed. In fact, speaking of sound, kudos to Paul Gemignani, Conductor, and his Orchestra, which was raised on two sides of the theater, and fully resonant. I sat near the keyboards, drums, and strings, and I looked up often, as these tunes have so much to offer. My suggestion: Take this show to a Club or Off-Broadway, with a new Joey, smaller ensemble, small orchestra, and see what happens. The costumes and some of the sets could be salvaged, and, be sure to bring Stockard Channing and Martha Plimpton. They, and the new Joey, could Bewitch and Bewilder in a smaller home. This superb show deserves another chance.
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