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San Francisco by Richard Connema & Reed Brown

Pal Joey Did Not Bewitch Me

In the first act of Rodger and Hart’s Pal Joey, Vera Simpson sings “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”. Well we saw the Marin Theatre Company and Allegro Theatre Company Sunday night and I was NOT bewitched but I was bothered and bewildered by this production. I am sorry to say it was very amateurish and I was very surprised that this group put on such an uneven production.

Pal Joey was first produced in 1940 and it featured a then known dancer, Gene Kelly, as Joey. The cast included Vivienne Segal who was an overnight sensation as Vera. Her rendition of “Bewitched” was one of the high points of the production. Also in that production was June Havoc and another unknown, Van Johnson. Brooks Atkinson of the Times said “If it is possible to make an entertaining comedy out of an odious story, Pal Joey is it.

I saw the revival in 1951 at the Broadhurst with Harold Lang playing Joey, once again the wonderful Vivienne Segal as Vera, and a stellar cast including Helen Gallager, Lionel Stander, Elaine Stritch and Barbara Nichols. I loved the score and the cast was superb.

Columbia did a so-so film adaptation with Sinatra, Hayworth and Novak, and set the film here in San Francisco. It did not do justice to the dark musical.

There was an all black version of the musical with the great Lena Horne as Vera and Clifton Davis as Joey. I frankly did not like the production since they tried to change the style of the Rodgers melodies. It just did not work, even with Lena singing “Bewitched”.

I was somewhat surprised that the Marin Theatre Company in association with Allegro would attempt to revive this somewhat dated musical. Albert Takazauckas, one of ACT better directors, tried to bring some sort of update to the musical but it just did not work. The production sagged in many parts.

First, the two leads, Katherine Crosby and Rudy Guerrero, were miscast. You could see Ms. Crosby was having a field day playing the older woman but she did not have the range to put across “What Is A Man”. She reveled in “Bewitched” where she half talked and half sung, mugging shamelessly through the song. Her deep voice just was not up to the song.

Mr. Guerrero, a young and very talented actor in his own right, is a sleek dancer with a terrific smile, but he does not have a good singing voice. He kept drifting flat and he just did not have the flair or drive as Joey.

The best singing voice was Kirk Herring when he belted out “The Flower Garden of My Heart”. Here was a real camp number with the chorines dressed as flowers. Karen Hall played the cynical journalist and her one and only number was “Zip”. I found it very amateurish also. The rest of the cast had very weak singing voices. I also thought the choreographed scenes were very clumsy and not well rehearsed.

Frankly I am surprised that with all the good singing voices we have in the area, Mr. Takazauckas picked these two leads for his production. He could have done much better.

The production had a seven piece orchestra on stage lead by David Shepard. They did an excellent job with Dick Rodger’s classic score. The set design was very dowdy. It look like a gym in a high school. The musical runs until October 10. The next production will be the world premier of a recently found Tennessee William’s play called “Spring Storm”. It runs from November 11 to December 12.



- Richard Connema



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