Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pal Joey

photo: Joan Marcus

Bothered and bewildered but not a bit bewitched am I by Roundabout's botched revival of this Rodgers-Hart musical (in its last days of previews). Stockard Channing can not sing, and her otherwise sharp performance sags everytime she shifts from snappy dialogue delivery to meek emote-on-pitch mode. The production has far more pressing problems, such as the revised book that creates as many problems as it solves, and depressing on-the-cheap production values. (The set is horrendous - you'll get the idea if you imagine the roller coaster track from Assassins and the staircase from Nine competing with a mirrored crescent-shaped pylon - and the costumes are worse.) The musical, edgy in its day, is problematic even now to put on - it centers on an ambitious, scumbag ladykiller who behaves badly but who we, like the women in the story, are meant to find magnetic. Jersey Boys' Christian Hoff departed the role after about a week of previews under his belt, defaulting the role to his understudy Matthew Risch. (Under the circumstances, I'll say only that Risch, at this late point in previews, is at least headed in the right direction and, although only a serviceable singer, seems in striking distance of nailing the role before opening night.) The production is fatally short on both pizazz and sex appeal: everyone is so busy over-emphasizing the darkness in the material and mining it for contemporary psychological truth that concerns about entertainment value seems to have been forgotten. There are two mitigating factors though: Martha Plimpton proves a delightful musical performer, and easily steals the evening with her rendition of "Zip". Also, the females in the chorus are spot-on: in general, each looks appropriate to the period and each is deliciously individuated in the dance numbers.

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