A Bewitching Switch: Understudy Matthew Risch Is New Pal Joey, Opening Is Now Dec. 18

By Kenneth Jones
and Andrew Gans
24 Nov 2008

Matthew Risch
Matthew Risch

As in showbiz fables of yore, a newcomer is taking over a Broadway lead after a star's injury. Understudy Matthew Risch, according to the actor's spokesperson and the producer, will permanently step into the title role of Pal Joey, replacing Tony Award winner Christian Hoff.

"Due to a foot injury sustained during Friday night's performance of the musical Pal Joey, Christian Hoff has had to withdraw from the production which is currently in preview performances," Roundabout Theatre Company confirmed Nov. 24. "Matthew Risch, the understudy for the role of Joey will take over immediately having performed Saturday and Sunday performances."

The official press opening night will shift one week later to Dec. 18 at Studio 54. A special added performance plays tonight, Nov. 24 at 8 PM, launching the Thanksgiving week schedule.

Following the foot injury sustained by Hoff on Nov. 21, the Saturday Nov. 22 matinee of the revival of the Rodgers & Hart musical was canceled (to allow for Risch's rehearsal), and Risch stepped into the role Saturday and Sunday.



Risch, previously part of the ensemble of the Joe Mantello-directed musical at Studio 54, 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.

The new revised revival of the 1940 musical by Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, John O'Hara and new book writer Richard Greenberg focuses on a Chicago nightclub hoofer with dreams of owning his own joint. His ticket to that goal is a rich married lady (played by Tony winner Stockard Channing) who is famously "bewitched, bothered and bewildered" by him. There's also a girl-next-door-type in his world, Linda, plated by Jenny Fellner (Mamma Mia!).

Previews began Nov. 14 at Studio 54 on West 54th Street. The opening was originally scheduled for Dec. 11.

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Hoff, who created the role in previews, won a Tony as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Jersey Boys.

Tony-winning director Mantello's credits include Assassins, Wicked, Take Me Out, The Odd Couple and more.

Tony nominee Martha Plimpton (Top Girls) plays Gladys Bumps, a club performer.

The new Greenberg script based on O'Hara's original (and on O'Hara's short stories) reinvents some scenes, situations and characters, and some songs by composer Rodgers and lyricist Hart have been reassigned or restored.

Audiences can expect to hear 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 (according to the Playbill of the first preview) 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.

Music direction by is Tony Award winner Paul Gemignani, with choreography by Tony nominee Graciela Daniele (Ragtime).

Pal Joey is a limited engagement through Feb. 15, 2009. The musical is produced in association with Marc Platt.