As incident-packed as Joey Evans' life has been as he moves from city to city to find success, the history of this particular production of the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart show is also crowded with drama. Not least was the replacement of its star, Tony Award winner Christian Hoff, by understudy Matthew Risch in previews.
Hoff (the original Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys) injured his foot in performance, and Risch, an unknown except for small roles in Legally Blonde and Chicago, took center stage the next night. Lithe, dark and possessing sex appeal, song-and-dance skills and a brooding man-boy quality, Risch was Roundabout's choice to play a showbiz hustler who is pulled between a good girl named Linda (played by Jenny Fellner, once of Mamma Mia!) and a middle-aged cougar named Vera (played by Tony Award winner Stockard Channing).
Previews for the limited engagement began Nov. 14. Hoff hurt his foot Nov. 21; on Nov. 22, Risch stepped into the role. His permanence was announced by Nov. 24. The opening night was delayed to Dec. 18 (instead of Dec. 11) to allow the actor time to settle into the part, for which he sings nightclub numbers and intimate songs with his lady love interests.
Joey also spars with his ex-lover, a been-around nightclub singer named Gladys Bumps, played by Tony nominee Martha Plimpton (Top Girls). With little history as a musical actress, Plimpton has been wowing Studio 54 preview crowds with her powerful, husky singing voice and her confidence with classic Rodgers and Hart songs (including the specialty number, "Zip," which has been reinvented for the revival by new librettist Richard Greenberg, director Joe Mantello and choreographer Graciela Daniele).
The production is more "revisal" than strict revival. Two songs from the R&H catalog have been added to this Pal Joey, as has a song cut in 1940; a reporter character has also been excised; and Greenberg's book scenes (drawing on the original libretto by John O'Hara, who drew from his own short stories) now crackle with contemporary tensions and smarter dialogue than in the original script (when Gene Kelly was Joey). Pal Joey is a limited engagement through Feb. 15, 2009. The musical is produced in association with Marc Platt.
Creating a population of Chicagoans are Robert Clohessy (as Mike), Urinetown alumnus Daniel Marcus (as tenor Ludlow), Wicked actor Steven Skybell (as Ernest), Timothy J. Alex, Brian Barry, Kurt Froman, Bahiyah Sayyed Gaines, Lisa Gajda, Anthony Holds, Nadine Isenegger, Mark Morettini, Kathryn Mowat Murphy, Abbey O'Brien, Hayley Podschun, Krista Saab and Eric Sciotto.
Music direction by is Tony Award winner Paul Gemignani.
Pal Joey is considered one of the landmark "link" musicals between fizzy old-fashioned musicals of the 1920s and '30s and more psychologically charged shows of the '40s and beyond in which darker colors of characters were revealed. Pal Joey is a sort of musical comedy character study about ambitious performer Joey Evans, who seeks the affection of a married woman in the hope that she'll fund his dream of owning a nightclub (a ballet called "Chez Joey" closes Act One). Vera Simpson dryly sings "Bewitched" and "What Is a Man?" as well as the duet with Joey, "In Our Little Den (of Iniquity)."
The score has also included "Happy Hunting Horn," "A Great Big Town (Chicago)," "You Mustn't Kick It Around," "Take Him," "Zip," "Plant You Now, Dig You Later," "I Could Write a Book," "Do It the Hard Way" and "The Flower Garden of My Heart."
This new production also offers a song for Joey that was cut prior to the 1940 Broadway premiere (it's called "I'm Talking to My Pal"). Also interpolated into this revival are the Rodgers & Hart songs "Are You My Love?" from the 1936 film "Dancing Pirate" and "I Still Believe in You" from the 1930 musical Simple Simon. Both are for Joey and Linda.
This is the first Broadway revival of Pal Joey in over 30 years.
The show was a year-long success in its original production (starring Gene Kelly and Vivienne Segal) but was a bigger hit when it was revived on Broadway in the 1950s (with Harold Lang and Segal).
According to Roundabout, "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."
The design team includes two-time Tony Award winner Scott Pask (sets), five-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long (costumes), Paul Gallo (lights), Tony Meola (sound), Don Sebesky (orchestrator) and Eric Stern (dance arranger).
The 1952 Broadway production of Pal Joey won three Tony Awards including Best Choreography and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical. A film of the musical was made in 1957, starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. Bob Fosse received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in the 1963 production. The 1976 production at Circle in the Square starred Dixie Carter as reporter Melba (a role that is not in the new version).
Risch, previously part of the ensemble of Pal Joey, attended College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, which has a respected musical theatre program. He appeared as Carlos in Broadway's Legally Blonde (understudying the role of Warner) and was Sgt. Fogarty and Fred Casely in Broadway's Chicago. He toured as Levi in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Channing won a Tony Award for her performance in Roundabout Theatre Company's Joe Egg in 1985, and also received Tony nominations for her acclaimed performances in The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation, Four Baboons Adoring the Sun and Roundabout Theatre Company's The Lion in Winter. In 2002 she won two Emmy Awards, one for her role as First Lady Abbey Bartlet in NBC's "The West Wing" and the other for her performance as Judy Shepard in "The Matthew Shepard Story." She was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe when she re-created her role in the film "Six Degrees…" She was Rizzo in the film "Grease."
Plimpton is a two-time Tony Award nominee for her recent performances in Top Girls and The Coast of Utopia.
Pal Joey plays Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 PM.
Tony-winning director Mantello's credits include Assassins, Wicked, Take Me Out, The Odd Couple and more.
Choreographer Graciela Daniele was Tony-nominated for Ragtime. her directing and choreographing credits include Broadway's Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Annie Get Your Gun, Once On This Island and more, plus Lincoln Center Theater's Dessa Rose, The Glorious Ones, A New Brain, Elegies, Hello Again and more.
Studio 54 is located in Manhattan at 254 West 54th Street. For more information visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.
Tickets priced $36.50-$121.50 are also available by visiting www.paljoeyonbroadway.com or by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300.