Arts & Events

New: Musical Theater Review: Splendid Revival of 'Pal Joey' by 42nd Street Moon--this weekend only

By Ken Bullock
Friday December 14, 2012 - 05:24:00 PM

"Don't analyze it. If you take it apart, you might not be able to put it back together." So Vera Simpson's wry advice on life to her brazen young "protege," nightclub entertainer Joey Evans, the Joey of the title of Rodgers & Hart's masterful, knowing 1940 musical, 'Pal Joey,' staged as a splendid piano-accompanied, full costume, well-choreographed revival by 42nd Moon--just through this weekend. 

Joey, the rakehell letter writer to "Friend Ted" in John O'Hara's epistolary novel, was something new to Broadway, when Rodgers & Hart took up the challenge O'Hara threw down, to create a musical comedy around his seedy charmer, an anti-hero whose distant relations in musical theater were the distinctly unseedy noble seducer Don Giovanni, the highwayman Captain Macheath of John Gay's ballad opera, 'The Beggar's Opera,' and his Berliner gangster offspring, Mack the Knife, in Brecht's 'Threepenny Opera,' which only made a success in New York in 1956, and then in the Village, not on the Great White Way. (In 1940, influential critic Brooks Atkinson praised 'Pal Joey' in execution, but asked "can you draw sweet water from a foul well?") 

Johnny Orenberg plays the title role in 42nd Street Moon's production with energy and verve, in many ways dominating the first, thoroughly enjoyable act, with its backstage scenes of rehearsals of acts and of Joey's braggadocio and manueverings. 

The second act, in which Vera attempts the makeover of the near-burlesque toilet where the slumming socialite discovered her diamond in the rough into the toney Chez Joey, brings the equally marvelous supporting cast to the fore as something more than counterpoint to the irrepressible Joey they're (almost) all wise to, but want a piece of. 

Deborah Del Maestro as Vera--the wealthy woman of the world O'Hara added to his original story as the diva role--delivers her finest moments here, including the wistful reprise of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," and the ladies' duel, "Take Him," turning into a duet with ingenue Linda English (Chloe Condon). Also reprised well by Orenberg at the very end is the great "I Could Write a Book," a duet in the first act with Condon. 

Just as engaging are the comic turns by Ryan Drummond as agent-cum-blackmailer Ludlow Lowell, a fast-talking sharper who teams up with chorine Gladys Bumps (Ashley Rae Little) in song, dance and scheming--and Becky Saunders as a deadpan lady reporter on the nightclub beat who tells her own story in hysterical bump-and-grind. David Vishni takes over the stage at one point with a deft tap dance. And there's a great humorous production number. 

Expertly directed and choreographed by Zack Thomas Wilde, with fine musical direction by Dave Dobrusky, from the almost-stride piano overture to the curtain call chorale of "I Could Write a Book," 'Pal Joey' is a delightful 20th anniversary show by 42nd Street Moon, and a great, adult musical entertainment treat for the holidays--but it ends in a few days! Don't miss it, if you can help it. 

Nightly through Sunday--Friday at 8, Saturday at 6, Sunday at 3--at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, near Battery, in the Golden Gateway Center, San Francisco. Tickets: $25-$75. (415) 255-8207 or