Soap operas would have me hooked, if they had all the showbiz oomph
of this musical revival of Pal Joey, a 1940 Broadway show (and a 1957 movie with Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, and Stockard Channing ). The glitzy, fun essentials are there. That’s about it, but that’s all you would need for a great night out, dreaming of old Manhattan and the days when show business was showbiz! and hoofers got by on wits and charm.
The plot is similar to one of those cheerful Italian operas, all melodramatic revelations are lustily or tragically belted out. Set in Chicago in the late 1930s, Pal Joey is the story of Joey Evans (Christian Hoff of Jersey Boys fame), a plotting song and dance man with dreams of owning his own nightclub. Joey breaks the heart of the wholesome Linda English, to seduce a rich, married older woman, Vera Simpson (Stockard Channing). It works, and Joey begins building up his own nightclub. One of the performers, Gladys Bumps (Martha Plimpton) has a grudge against Joey that she pays back in a twist even Joey can’t worm his way out of. The showbiz, song and dance routine of the entertainment industry turned inside out is fun to watch even now when it has changed, from the backstage flirtations to frou-frou burlesque costumes.
The production delivers just what it should from such a musical: pure entertainment. Honestly, I was jealous of the performers, it looks like so much fun to perform. I thought one of the numbers, “Zip”, was awkwardly introduced, so that the audience didn’t get the full joke of the song (in which a stripper recalls the intellectual musings in her head while she unzips.) Channing’s delivery of the infamous “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” can’t compete with Ella Fitzgerald, bu then who can? This tried-and-true crowd pleaser doesn’t bring anything new to stage, indeed it seems dated rather than shocking (as the conniving predator Joey was originally considered). No matter; some swinging old fashioned nostalgia ought to go down well over the holidays.
Directed by Todd Haimes in association with Marc Platt. Musical score by Rogers and Hart. With: Stockard Channing (Vera Simpson), Christian Hoff (Joey Evans) , Martha Plimpton (Gladys Bumps) and Jenny Fellner (Linda English). At the Roundabout Theater’s Studio 54 on 254 W. 54th St. through February 15, 2009.