Naples Dinner Theatre’s latest production, Pal Joey, takes a look at the trials of a slick-talking entertainer in 1930’s Chicago. The classic Rogers and Hart musical will play through March 4.
The show is based on a novel by John O’Hara about a second-rate, nightclub entertainer making his way in the windy city. The novel is written as a series of letters all signed “Pal Joey” - hence the title.
The story begins as Joey, played by Erik Floor, is trying to land a gig as a nightclub emcee. Right from the start he spins his own truth manipulating his way around.
His sly ways also extend to the ladies. He has a different angle for each girl. His charms land him in the favor of two particular women. One, Linda English, portrayed by Lauren Hauser is young, honest and sweet. The other is Vera Simpson, played by Debi Guthery, a wealthy married women of high society.
Vera can offer him many things, and their relationship flourishes. Their affair keeps him in cultural demand and Mr. Simpson’s money. It even allows him the opportunity to open his own club.
With the spoils of the affair also comes the sacrifice of what could have been with Linda. Joey and Vera’s elicit carryings-on eventually breed an opportunity for scandal and personal disaster, when a scheming ex-convict-turned-talent-agent Ludlow Lowell, played by Barry Marcus, assisted by nightclub diva Gladys Bumps, played by Sabra, enter the picture to stir things up.
Pal Joey is an interesting mix of a character study, a cautionary tale and a “rags to riches” story.
Rogers and Hart, famous for other musicals like Babes in Arms and On Your Toes, strayed from the mold with this piece.
The main character Joey Evans is not a nice guy. He is one of the first anti-heros in the history of musical theater. The songs are jazzy and serve the story well. Several have become standards, like Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.
Michael Wainstein’s direction brings forth the style of the piece with an appropriate blend of character and camp. The show transitions well from scene to scene occasionally using dance reprises to set the next scene. The production features a full band on stage, which also adds a unique element to the show. Pacing seems to be an issue throughout though, with some portions feeling a little dragged out, especially in the second act.
Christopher Noffke’s choreography is slick and jazzy and covers a load of broad styles. It definitely makes a positive contribution to the piece.
Erik Floor’s portrayal of Joey Evans carefully walked the line between charm and sleaze just as the character should. He has a good voice and excels in the smoother dance styles of the era, a la Gene Kelly, who originated the role in 1940.
As Vera Simpson, Debi Guthery exuded the confidence of a wealthy society woman without taking it over the top. Lauren Hauser had a sweet voice and was extremely well suited for her role as Linda English.
The rest of the hard-working ensemble deserves credit for an array of energetic nightclub-style entertainment ranging from tap to burlesque.
Those who want to get to know Pal Joey have the opportunity through March 4 at the Naples Dinner Theatre. For tickets and information, the box office can be reached at 239-514-7827 or visit www.naplesdinnertheatre.com on the Web.
Jamie Carmichael is the education director at the Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers. He has a great deal of theater experience as an actor, director, administrator and an enthusiastic audience member. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.