Stoneham's 'Pal Joey' Lacks, Well, Everything

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"Pal Joey"
Book by John O'Hara; music by Richard Rogers; lyrics by Lorenz Hart; directed by Weylin Symes and Caitlin Lowans; musical direction by Jose Delgado; choreography by Michelle Petrucci; costume design by Toni Bratton Elliot; lighting design by Mark Lanks

Joey, Brad Bass
Vera, Leigh Barrett
Linda, Robyn Elizabeth Less
Ludlow, Scott Marshall
Gladys, Ceit McCaleb
Melba, Kerry A. Dowling
Valerie, Christine Pardilla Reeds
Agnes, Michelle Petrucci
Mike, Dale Place
O'Brien, Brendan McNab
The Kid, Andrew Barbato
Dotty, Allison Russell
Dolores, Rocio Valles

Performances: Now through October 2
Box Office: (781)-279-2200 or

Stoneham Theatre kicks off their 2005-2006 season with "Pal Joey," the ground-breaking Rodgers and Hart musical that centers around a roguish nightclub emcee who ditches his naïve girlfriend to romance a rich older woman, who subsequently finances his lifestyle and business pursuits, until a blackmail scheme threatens to ruin them all. With its classic Broadway score and witty, although somewhat dated, book, "Pal Joey" is a musical that has stood the test of time since its 1940 Broadway debut at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Unfortunately, the dragging and colorless Stoneham Theatre production of this show is almost enough warrant shelving "Pal Joey" permanently. 


The biggest problem with Stoneham/>/>'s "Pal Joey" is that it has so much potential. The space of the theatre is fantastic. Christina Todesco's set design is superb; her use of levels lends itself to the possibility of creative blocking and stimulating lighting design. The cast is talented. The material is quick and witty. The orchestra is an interactive part of the show. It really is a shame that "Pal Joey" ends up more like a poorly done high school production rather than professional theatre. 


Most of the problems originate with the co-direction of Caitlin Lowans and Weylin Symes. Their choice in blocking is boring at best. With the simplicity and potential of the set, there is no excuse for simply blocking actors to walk across the stage in a few different directions. In addition to the poor blocking, the lack of chemistry between actors and their completely unbelievable relationships on stage makes "Pal Joey" awkward and tedious. The show barely crawls along at a snail's pace because everything going on just seems so unrealistic and contrived—it is impossible for the audience to be drawn in because there is absolutely nothing to be drawn in to. Michelle Petrucci's choreography is both entertaining and interesting, but Lowans' and Symes' choice to pursue clichés and cheap laughs rather than emphasize the material in the script negates the only positive aspects of the direction of this production of "Pal Joey."


Technically, the show is colorless and poorly done. Mark Lanks' lighting design involves little more than turning the lights on and off, and perhaps dimming them now and again for a musical number. His choice to keep certain sections of the stage lit during scene changes makes every onstage move visible to the audience and only serves to disassociate the audience from the production even more than the directorial vision already has. Toni Bratton Elliot's costumes are for the most part absolutely atrocious. The majority of the female costumes are loud, garish, and look blatantly cheap and tacky. Even worse, almost every costume worn by a female in "Pal Joey" is badly cut and ill-fitting. The attention is drawn away from the story and the dance numbers because the focus is on how the costumes are staying on the characters. Elliot's female costumes are nowhere near the exciting and classic fashions of the period and more often than not just serve to increase the unbelievable and awkward atmosphere on stage.


Individually, each cast member is talented, but together, there is nothing of value on stage. Brad Bass has a beautiful voice and incredible dancing talent, but his portrayal of Joey is otherwise completely dead. He lacks any spark and charisma on stage, and his interpretation of the character makes the superficial con-artist seem almost likable. Sure, Bass can do a few back flips on stage, but they seem to be nothing more than a red herring to distract the audience from the fact that beyond the acrobatics, there is nothing there.


The female ensemble characters are very much the same. While Ceit McCaleb's portrayal of Gladys is vocally perfect, she lacks the punch needed to pull off the role. The same is true of Leigh Barrett, who plays Vera. Barrett's soprano rings beautifully in the Stoneham Theatre, but she is completely unbelievable in the role of the older seductress and fails to portray any semblance of on-stage chemistry between Vera and Joey. The two highlights of this desperately drowning ensemble are Robyn Elizabeth Lee and Kerry A. Dowling, who play Linda and Melba, respectively. Lee is a breath of fresh air and innocence in this stale production, and plays the role of the lovesick and naïve Linda to perfection. Dowling does the same with the minor role of Melba, ensuring that "Zip" is one of the most memorable performances of this production. 


Stoneham Theatre's interpretation of "Pal Joey" is evidence of the fact that song, dance, and individual talent do not make a successful musical. This production has so much potential to begin with, and it ends up lacking just about everything that is needed for a successful musical. If you are interested in a routine, tiresome production, then Stoneham Theatre's "Pal Joey" is just the show for you; however, if you are interested in seeing a production with some attempt at creativity, originality, believability, on-stage chemistry, fascinating technical effects, and sheer pleasure, do yourself a favor and stay home for this one. Maybe Stoneham Theatre will get it right the next time around.   

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From This Author Olena Ripnick

Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel (read more...)