Musicals are usually the coy, sappy ordeals your grandmother likes. Luckily there are a few entertaining and flavorful exceptions worth noting.
Mask and Bauble’s final attempt at dazzling the campus this semester is now on display. Roger’s and Hart’s Pal Joey luckily lets the plucky theater group end their season on a positive note. Musical attendance often involves sitting through a three hour embarassment, but thankfully this time the able cast hits the high ones and pulls a winner from the satisfying, if not always innovative, score.
Set in Chicago in 1939, the scenerio follows the typical jumble of nightlife, showgirls, music and dancing. But for the sake of plot a handful of notable characters pepper the stage.
At the musical’s heart is our own pal, Joey, played by a bursting-with-song Tim Tracy (CAS ‘01). Not always on the ball, Tracy properly handles Joey’s somewhat loony character. It is no surprise, then, that Joey is not whom one would normally choose to be a pal. His nearly psychotic personality is perfect for his chosen career: MC of the biggest, most successful nightclub. His exuberance spills over to real life; he is emotionally needy and preys unwittingly on women. Director Annette Santiago (CAS ‘02) pleads with her audience not to jump to conclusions about Joey’s character, but after nearly three hours, he very nearly wears out his welcome.
The two women unlucky enough to get involved with Joey fit their stereotyped roles quite well. The virginal young Linda, played with blonde and bubbly honesty by Tracy Hartman (CAS ‘03), is no match for the vamp: the wealthy, married and nearly-forty Vera. Diana Cherkas (MSB ‘03) lets Vera’s eyebrow-raising lines lead her. Her crafty songs are filled with such lyrics as “Thank God I can be oversexed again.”
To its credit, the entire musical has no qualms about dabbling in sexual overtones. As long as the dancers are flaunting their enticements, it makes proper sense for the witty banter to focus on the characters’ more horizontal capabilities.
Although Joey headlines the show, he is upstaged by the leading lady, Vera. With her husband’s financial backing, she opens a club for Joey, letting him think he is in control. Alas, this smart woman has been around the block a few times and Joey ends up broke and on the verge of being blackmailed by his agent, played with slick car-salesman brovado by Michael Santore (CAS ‘04). Only a tip-off from Linda and some string-pulling from Vera save him.
Beyond the main roles, the actor responsible for every bit-part in the show, James Salandro (CAS ‘03), is a runaway success. With only few moments to make a strong impression to the crowd, he succeeds nobly whether portraying a drunk nightclub patron with his fly open, a cross-eyed tailor or a dim-witted club employee.
Another notable appearance is made by a Chicago newspaper’s society columnist (Sally Richardson [CAS 04]), a recreational stripper who needs no notebook, and scarcely an interview, to get her story.
The musical revolves around the nightclub scene, and as the characters find themselves moving into classier joints, it is amusing to watch the same employees struggle with their new upscale environs. Gladys, danced and sung with talent and humor by Tara Dankel (SFS ‘03), has a problem with keeping her legs together, both on and off the stage.
The dance numbers are a welcome addition to the singing, which is almost all easy on the ears. Created by Jaime Palumbu (CAS ‘01), the choreography is interesting and well rehearsed, with some fitting nightclub moves that might make Leo O’Donovan blush. Another pleasant touch to the show is the music played during scenery changes. In keeping with the 1939 setting, the fitting arrangement could be the soundtrack for a jazz history class.
Pal Joey takes the usual formula for the musical and puts enough of a twist on it to make it different. The cast keeps the momentum going, with very little opportunity to think about the time. So if you haven’t gone to see any Mask and Bauble plays this year, or maybe even the whole time you’ve been at Georgetown, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some on-campus culture and go.