Pal Joey Morphs to Bud Joey
By Richard Carreño
I've never seen original stage production of Pal Joey. Nor, have I seen the 1957 film with Rita Hayworth (top billing, by the way), Frank Sinatra, and Kim Novak. (It's now in my Netflix queue). But I do have the vinyl soundtrack of the cinema production, and I so I know what the lyrics of the original are all about. The Roundabout Theatre Company's revival, er 'rivisal,' of Pal Joey at Studio 54, which I saw yesterday, is not exactly about the same thing.
Joey Evans, everyone's lovable pal with, at plumb, a heart of fool's gold (an alchemist's dream) is now, in today's parlance, everyone's favourite 'bud.' Forget, stud.
Things change. And, yes, it makes sense to transition Joey from a 30s ChiTown sharpie into a newer version -- say, a 60s Vegas entertainment hustler, something on the order of Joey Bishop, or Sammy Davis, Jr. You know, one of those lesser lights in the Rat Pack, emphasis on rat. (New book by Richard Greenberg).
Still, some of the changes in the current offering are seemingly needless. I know I'm a bit deaf (a real hazard if you're supposed to be reviewing musicals), but for the life of me I can't remember the less-than-memorable Matthew Risch as Joey (no Gene Kelly of the original, nor Sinatra, he) singing The Lady is a Tramp. (Please, tell me it ain't true). Tramp, of course, in a louche finger-snapping version, became one of Sinatra's signature tunes.
Zip also got updated. Reminds me of when some genius told Cole Porter that he should change the lyrics in Anything Goes (?) from 'the Louvre Museum' to 'the Field Museum' because middle-America wouldn't get it. At least, Bewitched stays in!
Incidentally, Stockard Channing is no knockout in this production, as well. Her pipes are adequate. But her delivery is limited. Belting out a tune -- ah, for the days of Ethel Merman! -- is not part of her range. Also, Stockard, what's up with the the Locust Valley lockjaw? George Plimpton in drag, maybe? (Stockard, remember your name is only a vowel away from 'Stockyard'). At least her, voice hasn't devolved into a Katherine Hepburn cackle. Yet.
Is this the Joey that flowed from the Master's pen? Obviously not. Would O'Hara be outraged, Of course. (But, then again, he was pretty much outraged by everything that contradicted his first draft of craft).
Incidentally, among my collection of the Pal Joey stories is a 1999 Prion edition (£4.99). This part of the London publishers' 'Film Ink' series. 'For copyright reasons,' we're told, this edition, with a new introduction by the late, great Matthew Bruccoli, (and its edition of BUtterfield 8, as well) are not available in the United States. Huh? I'd love someone to explain why O'Hara's works in their purist forms -- some of them, at least -- are tied in copyright knots, while 'rivisals' like the new Joey get a pass. Of course, this being America, I suppose it's about money. But whose pocket is getting lined?
Also, I have five extra copies of this production's Playbill. If you want one, let me know. They're free -- except I'll need $1.50 in postage and handling. Query me for details.
(This article originally appeared on the website of the John O'Hara Society via http://www.oharasociety.blogspot.com/. Richard Carreño is the Society's Corresponding Secretary).