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Music Theatre's revival of PAL JOEY renews an old theatrical acquaintance with local audiences. On December 11, 1940, in Philadelphia's heyday as a broadway tryout town, Director George Abbott applied his famous "touch" to the Rodgers and Hart Musical at the Forrest Theater. After its bow here, it went on to a Christmas opening in New York, a run of 379 performances and a reputation so unique as"to cause an even more widely successful revival during the 1952 Broadway season.
There had never been any controversy concerning the music. Several of the tunes from the score gained "Hit Parade" popularity immediately and have long since become pop standards. It was the show's unusual book which gave it a certain aura of heraldry; the musical play which had been misunderstood in its debut simply because it insisted on being ahead of its time. Its story line and central characters, after all, never afforded the thoughtlessly pleasurable pastime which characterized even the brassier musicals in those seemingly naive days before World War 11. Librettist John O'Hara's literary signature had always been his directness and authenticity, the realistic reportage of society's sophisticated but sad misfits. The critical fraternity wondered about audience acceptance of any musical designed around a title character who in the original novelette from which the 'play was derived, would thus epitomize himself and his seamy nocturnal millieu:
"Well, Merry Christmas as the saying goes. I guess I will have to go to bed for 24 hours so I don't have to stop hating my fellow men."
But the authors had the courage to retain Joey's basic attitude, the besmirched integrity of the anti-hero, the bitter morning, after taste of desperate, ruthless ambition in the grubby era of Depression-blighted "night life".
Quite apart from its structural novelties, remarkable for 1940,-innovations making for consistent dramatic pertinence of book, songs, and dances-PAL JOEY has become, in retrospect, the sign post for the directions taken by such contemporary works of the musical theater as Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY, FOLLIES, and Kander and Ebb's CABARET (Music Theatre's initial offering of this season). First and foremost, however, PAL JOEY continues to be its own rough, unflinchingly knowing and, yes, impudently comic self.
Theatre and Performance Studies
La Salle College, "Pal Joey" (1973). La Salle College Summer Music Theatre. 25.