"Pal Joey" at the IU Theatre wraps up the 2004/2005 season in solid style. Looking back at the wild production of "Bat Boy," the stylish performances in "The Cherry Orchard" and the awe inspiring depth of "Master Harold…" it has been a season with some real highlights.
"Pal Joey," is the story of a charmingly glib nightclub emcee, a two-timing heel who comes from the wry stories of John O’Hara. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart contributed the music. "I Could Write a Book," and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" are songs that have entered into the canon of American Popular Song. Others, like "Happy Hunting Horn" have been gently laid to rest. The show is a bit of an antique and takes patience from today’s audience, but there are rewards.
The IU Theatre’s production is directed and choreographed, and choreographed by George Pinney. I repeat the word "choreographed," because there is a lot of dancing. There are solos, duos and others "…os" right up to full ensembles. There are ballroom numbers, tap numbers, character pieces, and even a full ballet. The choreography is varied, interesting. It’s frequently on the edge and occasionally beyond of the company’s considerable capability. Pinney believes that in a musical everybody sings and everybody dances and he pretty much proves it.
There is some exceptional lead work in the show. IU’s "Pal Joey," Colin Donnell, is a college senior. He’s not likely to make you forget the original Broadway Joey, Gene Kelly nor the movie Joey, Frank Sinatra, but when he’s on stage you won’t be disappointed. Donnell is the real thing. He’s ably partnered with Allison Batty as the uptown lady who keeps him and Vanessa Brenchley as the downtown girl that he’s attracted to as well. Rebecca Faulkenberry has the role of the bouncy, blond, sadder and wiser chorus leader. John Armstrong was the energetically snaky agent and blackmailer Ludlow Lowell. Josh Gaboian was an able character as the cynical owner of Joey’s clubs. Amy Linden, as a bossy gossip columnist, wove a spell as she mocked a "Gypsy Rose Lee" strip.
Great to hear a pit orchestra that was really an orchestra with not a synthesizer in sight. There were five reeds one doubling on bassoon, two trumpets, a horn, real strings–a violin, a cello and a bass– plus piano and percussion. One trumpet had occasional problems, but overall they played with great color and variety. James Kallembach and Emily Hindrichs share the task of music director. On Saturday Hindrichs was the sure hand in the pit.
Costumes, and there are lots of costumes were designed by Dixon Reynolds. They range from the rehearsal scrubs of the dancers right up to a glamorous mink trimmed ensemble. Dathan Powell’s set designs ranged from full rooms to mere suggestions. Using the new technical capabilities of the Ruth N. Halls theatre for smooth changes everything worked very well.
Though there were some outstanding individual performances, it’s the overall strength of the two dozen singers and dancers in the ensemble leaves me eagerly awaiting "A Chorus Line" and "Falsettos" in the 2005/2006 season.
The IU Theatre production of Rodgers and Hart’s "Pal Joey" plays each evening this week through Saturday. You can see this along with other reviews and listen to an interview with director George Pinney and actor Colin Donnell on our George Walker’s Arts Interviews page.