Friday, July 11, 2008

Broadway Preview: Pal Joey

Broadway Preview: Pal Joey

Want to know the Broadway show I'm most looking forward to seeing during the 2008-09 Theatrical Season?

Look no further than Roundabout Theatre Company's retooled revival of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's classic Pal Joey, which begins previews at Studio 54 on November 14. With an opening set for December 11, this incarnation is currently listed as an "open-ended" run.

What excites me most is that it ushers in the return to the Great White Way for Stockard Channing as the stage's original cougar, Vera Simpson. It's been nine years since this five-time Tony nominated actress -- who won once for her 1985 portrayal of Sheila in the 1985 revival of Joe Egg -- last trod the Broadway boards.

Personally, I've loved this great American actress ever since "discovering" her as Miriam Knight in the 1973 ABC Movie of the Week "The Girl Most Likely To." I'm practically embarrassed to admit that I've never seen her perform live. I've promised myself I would move heaven and earth to see her. Finally, Pal Joey is providing me with my perfect opportunity.

Additionally, it doesn't hurt that the Main Stem's reigning denizen of drama is also in the show. Marking her first foray into Broadway musical theatre is Martha Plimpton, who will portray Gladys Bumps.

Of course, the acting name that's been most frequently bandied about is that of Christian Hoff as Joey Evans. This will be Hoff's first leading role on the Great White Way, and his first stage gig there of any kind since winning a Tony two years ago for his work as Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys. Hoff tackles the role once thought destined for Hugh Jackman. But will he have what it takes?

Given that Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain, The Well-Appointed Room and the upcoming Broadway production of The American Plan) is rewriting John O'Hara's book that Chris Caggiano (Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals) calls "creaky at best," I have high hopes for both Hoff and this Joe Mantello-helmed revival. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Pal Joey boasts a terrific score, including timeless tunes like "Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered."

Roundabout describes this fourth Rialto revival:

Set in Chicago in the late 1930s, Pal Joey is the story of Joey Evans, a brash, scheming song and dance man with dreams of owning his own nightclub. Joey abandons his wholesome girlfriend Linda English, to charm a rich, married older woman, Vera Simpson, in the hope that she’ll set him up in business.
Pal Joey first played Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day, 1940, and would run for 374 performances, ending just a week before Pearl Harbor launched the nation headlong into war. Gene Kelly's Joey played opposite Vivienne Segal's Vera, while none other than the Baby/Dainty June, June Havoc (the 94 year old actress has been forever immortalized in Gypsy), portrayed Gladys Bumps.

The first revival, once again starring Vivienne Segal as Vera, came less than a dozen years later in January 1952 at the Broadhurst Theatre. With 540 total performances, it would enjoy a run outlasting the original. Joey was played by Harold Lang, but it would be Helen Gallagher's take on Gladys that would win a Tony. And the great Elaine Stritch appeared in this version as Melba.

Barely ten years after the first revival closed, a second one opened May 29 at City Center for a mere fifteen performances. But it was enough to provide Bob Fosse with his only Tony nomination in an acting role, this time in the title role. Fosse was cast opposite Viveca Lindfors as Vera and Elaine Dunn as Gladys.

The last revival of Pal Joey came a whopping 32 years ago at the tiny (by Broadway standards) Circle in the Square Theatre. Bereft of any Tony nominations, the 1976 revival starring Christopher Chadman (Joey), Joan Copeland (Vera) and Janie Sell (Gladys) came and went after just 73 performances.

So how long will this new revival of Pal Joey remain on Studio 54's stage? It could be zip, unless critics mustn't kick it around.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
Broadway Preview: Dividing The Estate (July 10, 2008)
Broadway Preview: 13 (July 9, 2008)
Broadway Preview: Speed-The-Plow (July 8, 2008)
Broadway Preview: Billy Elliot - The Musical (July 7, 2008)
Broadway Preview: Godspell (July 6, 2008)
Broadway Preview: All My Sons (July 5, 2008)
Broadway Preview: A Man For All Seasons (July 3, 2008)
Broadway Preview: To Be Or Not To Be (July 2, 2008)
Broadway Preview: The Seagull (July 1, 2008)
Broadway Preview: Equus (June 30, 2008)
Broadway Preview: A Tale Of Two Cities (June 28, 2008)
Broadway Preview: for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf (June 25, 2008)
Broadway Preview: [title of show] (June 24, 2008)
Broadway: What's Next (June 20, 2008)
Broadway Estate Planning (March 17, 2008)

Broadway Bound, Second Time Around And Then Some (March 14, 2008)
A State Of Honorable Confusion (February 25, 2008)
Keeping Them in Stritches for 60 Years (July 25, 2006)
Casting Call (May 21, 2006)

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At 11 July, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I smiled when I read this for one reason - The ABC Movie of the Week! Wow, that's a trip down memory lane. I used to watch those movies all the time!

And I'm so thrilled you're going to get a chance to see one of your favorite actresses on stage at last. I'm really interested in the story - the 1930s Chicago setting - it just sounds like a show I'd love. And I do love the lipstick on the microphone.

At 13 July, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Remember the day when ABC ran those specially-produced movies each week? They served as the launching pad for several of their television series ("The Rookies," "Starsky and Hutch" and "The Six Million Dollar Man" all come to mind).

Ever since seeing that performance by Stockard Channing, I have loved this fine actress. Even loved her in "Grease."

At 20 August, 2008, Blogger Kari said...

Could not agree more -- Stockard Channing is amazing. I've missed seeing her semi-regularly on The West Wing. Can't wait for this!


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