Porchlight Music Theater is staging “Pal Joey” starring Sharriese Hamilton (from left) as Gladys Bumps, Adrian Aguilar as Joey Evans and Susie McMonagle as Vera Simpson. | Photo by Brandon Dahlquist
◆ Previews April 20-22; opens April 23 and runs through May 26
◆ Porchlight Music Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
◆ Tickets, $39 ($30 previews)
◆ (773) 327-5252;
Updated: April 17, 2013 3:12PM
The last time “Pal Joey,” came to town in a major production was 1988, when director Robert Falls teamed with choreographer Ann Reinking at the old Goodman Theatre.
So the arrival of Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of this rarely revived 1940 Broadway musical — with its caustic book by New Yorker writer John O’Hara, and a Rodgers and Hart score that features such classics as “I Could Write a Book,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “Zip” — has generated considerable anticipation.
Add to this the fact that the production will be directed by Michael Weber, who took over as artistic director of Porchlight in 2011 and totally transformed the company, and that Weber has called on the talents of both Doug Peck, the ubiquitous music director (“Porgy and Bess” at Court Theatre, “Fiorello!” at TimeLine, “Candide” and the upcoming “Jungle Book” at the Goodman), and choreographer Brenda Didier (who does such dazzling work at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre), and expectations have only risen.
And then there is the cast: Adrian Aguilar (“tick, tick...Boom!,” “Hair,” “Grease”) as Joey Evans, the charming, manipulative, womanizing, small-time nightclub performer who has wrangled a job at a seedy South Side club in 1930s Chicago; Susie McMonagle (the veteran Chicago diva who was featured in the national tour of “Billy Elliot”), as the married, middle aged socialite with whom Joey has a wholly opportunistic affair, hoping she will bankroll a club for him; Laura Savage as Linda English, the naive shop girl Joey meets and falls for (to the extent possible for him); and Sharriese Hamilton as Gladys Bumps, a shrewd club singer who knows Joey’s game.
“Michael [Weber] has wanted to do this show for 20 years,” said Peck. “And his idea was to go back to the original version that hasn’t been seen here since the musical’s first national tour. Of course we had to get permission from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which handles the rights. But they are well aware that this musical is a unique hybrid in many ways, and has rarely been done in the same way twice. Part of what Michael is aiming for is a more cinematic approach to the storytelling, so that the scenes have a real flow.”
“Of course what has always set ‘Pal Joey’ apart was that it introduced the first anti-hero in a Broadway musical,” said Peck. “Joey is honest about his ambition, and his sleazy ways with women. And of course he has that 1930s slang vocabulary that includes ‘mice’ (for women), and ‘powder’ (for a drink) and ‘angle’ (for a business idea) and ‘crib’ (for a home).” (The term ‘pal Joey’ is slang for “kept man.”)
“The 1957 movie version left out many of the songs in the original musical, and added others by Rodgers and Hart,” said Peck. “We are restoring the score, and also including ‘I’m Talking to My Pal,’ which was cut from the original. It is sung by Joey, and might be familiar to many from Mandy Patinkin’s recording of it.”
And just how did composer Richard Rodgers’ collaboration with lyricist Lorenz Hart differ from his subsequent one with Oscar Hammerstein?
“I give great credit to Rodgers for the way he was able to shift his sound,” said Peck. “With Hart he worked much more in the jazz idiom, capturing the pop of his edgy, conversational lyrics, and bringing a real sense of the period to the work. With Hammerstein there was more of a timelessness in his longer, symphonic lines that require greater vocal technique and also are harder to reduce.”
“The work of Rodgers and Hart was cynical and witty, while that of Rodgers and Hammerstein had an earnest, optimistic, Americana sensibility. Hart and Hammerstein were just two totally different men with very different world views.”
The original 1940 Broadway production, directed by George Abbott, starred Gene Kelly as Joey and Vivienne Segal as Vera.
“Not surprisingly, much of the storytelling came out in the dancing,” said Peck. “Our Joey, Adrian Aguilar, has that Kelly quality, with a very masculine, dude style that Brenda [Didier] is making the most of. Susie [McMonagle], is a gorgeous woman ‘of a certain age.’ And the two really are steamy together.”
Peck has watched the film version of “Pal Joey” that starred Frank Sinatra, but he learned the most from listening to source recordings, as well as the stylings of the many singers who have turned the show’s songs into standards.
“We have such a young and hungry cast at Porchlight,” said Peck. “And Michael [Weber] wanted them to become familiar with the style and rhythms of the period. So he’s had them watch all the old comedies of the time, from ‘His Girl Friday’ to ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’.”