Pal Joey

Music: Richard Rodgers

Lyrics: Lorenz Hart

Book: John O'Hara

Based on a series of short stories John O'Hara had written for THE NEW YORKER about Joey Evans, a small-time, fast-talking Chicago entertainer, Pal Joey introduces us to the young cad as he weasles his way into an emcee job at a second-rate nightclub on the south side. The gig doesn't last long, however. When he doesn't respond appropriately to the flirtations of Mrs. Vera Prentiss Simpson, an influential patron of the club, Joey finds himself back on the street. Vera, however, still has her eye on the smooth-talking young man, and when he shows a little interest, she decides to buy him his own club! Soon, all the gang from the old club has migrated to the new one, and everyone is busy preparing for opening night. But some of Joey's old pals are jealous of his good fortune, and when they decide to blackmail Vera over the affair with Joey, everything is bound to come crashing down.

Pal Joey opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 25, 1940 with a cast that featured Gene Kelly (Joey), Vivienne Segal (Vera) and Leila Ernst (Linda). The NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE wrote:

"Brilliant, sardonic and strikingly original ... an outstanding triumph ... done with such zest and scornful relish that it achieves genuine power."

Many critics, however, put off by a "heel" like Joey, were not so generous with their praise. Brooks Atkinson of the NEW YORK TIMES, said of the play, "Although it is expertly done, can you draw sweet water from a foul well?" As a result of reviews like this, the production was doomed to failure. It lasted a scant 374 performances.

Then in 1950, several band leaders and pop singers rediscovered one of the songs from the score. Before long, seven different versions of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" had reached the top of the charts. In order to capitalize on these developments, Columbia Records decided to produce a cast recording of the entire score featuring one of the original stars, Vivienne Segal, along with newcomer Harold Lang. The albums was such a hit that a revival was immediately put into the works starring Segal and Lang, and on January 3, 1952, Pal Joey opened at the Broadhurst Theatre where it remained for 540 performances, sparked a twelve-city national tour, and went on to win the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for "Best Musical." Explaining the resurgence of Pal Joey, Richard Rodgers would later write:

"Joey as a person met with a great deal of resistance in 1940 when he was first presented to the Ameican public, but I have an idea that this was due largely to the fact that nobody like Joey had ever been on the musical stage before. In the conventional sense, his characteristics were those of a villain, and so long as there was an orchestra in the pit, the villain was supposed to wear a black moustache and be nasty all the way. Since that time, however, characters in musical plays have become more human, and the attitude of the public toward these characters has become more human, too."

The 1957 film version featured Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak.

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