Friday, December 19, 2008

Pal Joey (The SOB Review)

Pal Joey (The SOB Review) - Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, New York, NY

*** (out of ****)

Incredibly enough, the first time I ever heard Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's enduring classic "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" on stage was not as part of a mounting of Pal Joey. No, it occurred in 2006 when the enormously talented Samuel Barnett delivered his poignant rendition as Posner in The History Boys.

Fast forward two years to Joe Mantello's sparkling revival of Pal Joey, when I finally had my chance to hear it as originally intended. Well sorta.

No matter that John O'Hara's book has been substantially updated by Richard Greenberg. With his decidedly contemporary and largely effective libretto, replete with allusions to abortion and outright depictions of closeted homosexuality -- circa 1930s -- this is certainly not your grandfather's Pal Joey. Nevertheless, the underlying story of the ne'er-do-well ladies' song-and-dance man Joey Evans, who blithely bounces between women, remains true to the original.

It doesn't hurt that he's cavorting around the sleazy side of Chicago. In fact, with Scott Pask's El tracks shrouded in shadows from Paul Gallo's lighting, one can't help but wonder if a certain disgraced governor could be found lurking here. He'd no doubt be welcome alongside Joey's lothario.

Of course, one of our anti-hero's conquests happens to be a cougar named Vera Simpson. As portrayed by Stockard Channing, Vera has that rare opportunity to sing "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," in this case right after being bedded by Joey. But alas, unlike Barnett's earlier performance in The History Boys, I found myself bewildered by Channing's uneven, faltering voice. Pity, since she imbues her Vera with such natural grace, style and seductiveness ... whenever the music stops.

Fortunately, the flipside of this equation is the absolutely stunning portrayal of Gladys Bumps by a bewitching Martha Plimpton. Talk about a revelation. We already knew this Tony-nominated actress had the dramatic chops, but who knew she also possesses such an sensational singing voice? Her "Zip" alone is worth the price of admission. Along with her sly moves, courtesy of Graciela Daniele's uniformly captivating choreography, is there nothing Plimpton can't do? Look for a Tony nod in her future.

As for being bothered, well, let's just say that given the dynamic degree to which Joey Evans is a song-and-dance man, it's hard to imagine anyone hoofing it -- including Christian Hoff -- quite like the magnetic Matthew Risch. Apart from what Michael Riedel might suggest, Risch mostly succeeds in going from chorus boy to promising lead performer.

Adding to the overall luster of Mantello's well-executed revival are Pask's dazzling set, Gallo's wondrous lighting and William Ivey Long's elegant costume design. Ultimately in this entertaining Pal Joey, bewitched wins out over both bothered and bewildered.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 19 December, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I really enjoyed "Pal Joey." The combination of the sets, costumes and lighting just worked so perfectly with the subject matter to help create a literally and figuratively dark mood. It was a fascinating show to look at and I was totally enthralled by the story.

I saw Christian Hoff as Joey and he was ok as a smooth-talking cad but as I think back on it, not nearly as memorable as the three women. They really made the show for me, including Jenny Fellner as Linda. And I definitely agree about Martha Plimpton. She was terrific. "Zip" was wonderful. Definitely a high point!

At 19 December, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Too bad you saw it so early in previews. I would have been curious what you would have thought of Matthew Risch.

At 24 December, 2008, Blogger gay CME guy said...

I absoutely adore Martha Plimpton (a Steppenwolf ensemble meember, you know)! I wish I could get to NYC to see her in this.


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