When PAL JOEY star, Cristian Hoff, injured his foot prior to the show’s opening, it revealed to me something about the old saying “break a leg” that lies at the heart of all superstitions, namely “be careful of what you wish for”.
It would have been exciting to see Hoff, the actor who won the Tony Award as bad boy Tommy Devito in JERSEY BOYS, play the role of the devilish, cunning schemer in the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical. Instead, the Roundabout Theatre delayed their revival for a week, opening with the understudy Matthew Risch in Hoff’s place.
As it happens, Risch is more than somewhat charming in the first Act. A terrific dancer with all of the right moves, he even surpasses his uneven singing in “Happy Hunting Horn”, a jazzy number staged around a chorus of women in black veils.
But Risch falls short of demonstrating the character’s nuances. And with the entire plot resting on the credibility or incredibility of Joey’s scheming, womanizing and exploiting, the absence of a truly mesmerizing Joey renders this a meaningless tale. Joey, by the way, is a cabaret performer and toward the end, the owner of a nightclub.
Unfortunately this production directed by Joe Mantello, leaves us with only a few of the exquisite elements needed for a full-fledged musical. There’s Martha Plimpton for one. Her Gladys Bump is as sultry as any Class B entertainer I’ve seen and a lot more sexy. Plimpton, whose Broadway appearances over the past few years have proven her amazing Chameleon skill, outdoes herself once again singing Lorenz Hart’s “Zip! I consider Dali’s paintings passé. Zip! Can they make the Metropolitan pay?”
In this song, Gladys portrays a newspaper reporter interviewing a stripper to whom she bares an incredible likeness. It’s one of the great character songs of all time, and Plimpton delivers it with the finesse of a natural born performer.
On that note, I’m glad to see that Stockard Channing is “oversexed” again as she alleges in the musical’s most famous song, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”. As Joey’s wealthy patroness, Channing is really cool and terribly hot.
Graciela Daniele’s Fosse-like choreography is well suited to the story which is set in the crime-ridden Chicago of the 1940’s. Richard Greenberg has adapted the book, but to what end one can’t quite make out. Just when we should feel trapped in a spider web of intrigue, we find ourselves instead, dashing for the exit.
By Isa Goldberg
Nov. 14, 2008 – March 1, 2009
254 W 54th Street (Between B’way & 8th Avenues)
Running Time:2 hours 30 minutes
with one 15 minute intermission