Broadway Features and Reviews
Pal Joey: A Bewitching History
By Leora Kanner, Broadway Magazine
Pal Joey is one of the crop of new revivals soon to have their opening night on Broadway this season. With a change in lead actors necessitated by a foot injury to Christian Hoff, the show had delayed its opening night until December 18. Matthew Risch will replace Hoff in the role originated by Gene Kelly. With a revised book by playwright Richard Greenberg, direction by Broadway favorite Joe Mantello, and stars Stockard Channing and Martha Plimpton, expectations for this revival at Studio 54 are high.
The first Pal Joey originated at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on December 25, 1940. This classic musical has a book written by John O'Hara, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and music by the beloved Richard Rodgers. Gene Kelly, Vivienne Segal, and Leila Ernst, were the main actors in the original cast. Also of note is the fact that Stanley Donen was also in the cast. Donen and Kelly would later team together to create some of the most important movie musicals of all time.
The original 1940s audience wasn't quite ready to accept a Broadway musical with the seedy characters and immoral plot of Pal Joey. The story includes nightclubs, seduction, blackmail, and corruption, ingredients not usually found on the Broadway stage. The main character, Joey Evans, is in fact an antihero. At a time when musical comedies followed a simple formula, Pal Joey represented a major departure from the norm. The New York Times writer, Brooks Atkinson, wrote: "Although Pal Joey is expertly done, can you draw sweet water from a foul well?"
Despite its tepid reception in the 1940s, the musical was revived almost immediately in 1952 to a much more amenable audience. After receiving critical accolades for its ability to treat the audience as mature adults, the show found success with audiences as well. This time Atkinson called the musical "brilliant." Pal Joey was also revived in 1962 with Bob Fosse, who earned a Tony nomination for his performance. The 1976 revival featured Dixie Carter, and included a young Marilu Henner in the cast as well.
Despite replacing its star during previews, there is every reason to take note of the upcoming revival of Pal Joey. While shows like HAIR, Guys and Dolls, and West Side Story may be more familiar to audiences, this Rodgers and Hart revised revival (or "revisal" you might say) could easily become the bewitching hit of the season.
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