Friday, January 23, 2009
On Wednesday I saw Pal Joey at Studio 54. The women steal the show in this production. Martha Plimpton who normally plays the part of Gladys, the night club performer, was not in the performance I saw. Stockard Channing is one of the most solid theater performers. She either chooses her roles well, or can make any role work. As the rich and bored Mrs Simpson, she plays the part with both charm, aloofness and vulnerability. She also looks stunning in William Ivey Long’s gowns. She also has the distinction of singing the musical's most heralded song Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered to her sleeping boy toy, the lounge lizard, Joey Evans. Stockard's voice while not powerful is just right to convey Mrs Simpson's laments. In What Is a Man? she sighs “They’re all alike/They’re all I like."
Joey jumps from town to town to prey on whoever will help him further his career. In this case, he is able to seduce Mrs Simpson into buying a night club and letting him mooch off her. She doesn't exactly see it that way at first. He also has been toying with the emotions of new-to-town, shop girl Linda English, played by Jenny Fellner. Her voice is beautiful and a perfect fit for the girl who may be more savvy than Joey will give her credit for. Her duet with Channing on "Take Him" is both charming and empowering for the women. They both realize he's a cad, but somehow they've been sucked in. Not exactly a new plot line, but with the right actresses, it's fresh again.
Richard Greenberg, who wrote the wonderful Take Me Out, adapted the original book and it has his stamp on it. He brings out the dark side of Chicago, while not making it bleak.
It's worth mentioning the dream scene, where Joey imagines his new night club, Chez Joey. There is a mighty white and chrome staircase and showgirls wearing enormous flower headdresses (I'm partial to the lily) descend the stage. I'm not sure if you are getting the same mental picture, but all I could think about was that similar scene from I Love Lucy. These women pulled it off with grace and didn't topple. I had to smile.