Review: PAL JOEY

by Lynn on October 15, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Book by John O’Hara

Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

Music by Richard Rodgers

Directed by Esther Jun

Musical direction by Dan Rutzen

Choreography by Alyssa Martin

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Cast: Tess Benger

Aidan deSalaiz

Izad Etemadi

Sierra Holder

Derek Kwan

Billy Lake

Michaela Mar

Alison J. Palmer

Kristen Pottle

Giovanni Spina

Justin Stadnyk

Carly Street


William Dietrich

Naomi Hughes

Ryan Johnston

A deliberately rough around the edges production done really well,  about a charming n’er do well who was smooth but rough around the edges.

The Story.  We are in Chicago in the late 1930s. Joey Evans is everybody’s pal but nobody’s friend. He’s an operator chatting up women he thinks can bankroll him or at least pay for his coffee. He has a line for everyone and almost no one falls for it. Some do but they get wise. He sings in a two-bit club run by a harried manager named Mike. One day Mrs. Vera Simpson, a society dame, comes into the club with her posse of men. Her husband is otherwise engaged making money. Vera is initially offended by Joey then intrigued and then attracted. She sets him up in his own club. But Joey is antsy. The relationship goes south and I don’t mean Missouri.

The Production. Joe Pagnan has designed a nicely pared down set that suggests grunge and later slickness. When Joey Evans (Justin Stadnyk) talks his way into a job at the second rate club that Mike (Izad Etemadi)  manages, the surroundings are simple: a round table and chairs that will be used first for Mike who barks at the chorus girls to step it up and get it together and then later as a table for a celebrated guest—Mrs. Simpson (Carly Street) etc. Later when Joey has his own spiffy club, the idea of class is suggested by a neon sign of his name.

Michelle Bohn’s costumes put us right in that world of the late 1930s. Mike  first works without a jacket. He wears a white shirt, suspenders holding up black pants and light beige socks and black shoes. I loved that note of the beige socks with dark pants and black shoes. It says everything out Mike’s lack of sartorial splendor.

Joey on the other hand is all about flash and appearance. He wears a fedora and a suit with confidence and style. Whatever he lacks in reality he makes up for with a line of baloney. When he talks his way into hosting the show at Mike’s club Joey wears a double breasted tuxedo.

Justin Stadnyk as Joey is slim, boyish, charming, always smiling and never flustered. He carries off that charm with style because we know that Joey is all hot air and pretense. Watching him spin a line, first to Linda, played as sweet and trusting by Michaela Mar then to Mrs. Simpson (Carly Street). Mrs. Simpson enters draped in fur and appropriate 1930s sophisticated clothes, with an entourage of two men. She’s slumming when she comes into the club.  Here Joey meets his match because Carly Street as Mrs. Simpson can talk him down and has his number. Toying with this charmer is a game for this bored society dame. Still she is charmed by his brashness and knowingly gets involved with him, gets him new, stylish clothes, sets him up in an apartment and even ‘gives’ him his own club, “Chez Joey.”

Again, Stadnyk as Joey continues in this step up with trusting confidence, not twigging that it could end with one wrong word. Mrs. Simpson has style, smarts and awareness. This is so evident in Street’s singing of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” It’s poignant, thoughtful and knowing—she’s done this before and can’t help it.   For his part, Stadnyk sings beautifully (“I Could Write a Book”) and moves with grace.

Alison J. Palmer plays Melba, a reporter who has seen it all and says so when she sings “Zip” a kind of homage to Gypsy Rose Lee. She’s irreverent, seductive and hilarious with every bump, grind and flip of her hair. The chorus lead by the impressive Tess Benger is a dandy collection of chorus girls (look carefully folks) of deliberately varying degrees of accomplishment.

Director Esther Jun brings her sharp eye and smart brain to this musical about a cad. She does not try and make Joey seem a better person than he is. He’s a charmer with a line that most people figure out. He uses people and disappoints them. He will never be better than he is but he always keeps trying. I guess that’s his charm. Jun fills the production with smart observations and with her design team they put us in that world.

Comment. Pal Joey was first done on Broadway in 1940. It was the last show on which Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart collaborated before Hart drank himself to death and Rodgers began collaborating with Oscar Hammerstein II. The lyrics are smart, the music is beautiful and the book is wonderfully prickly. The result is another dandy production for Talk is Free Theatre.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: Oct. 11, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 19, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours approx. with one intermission.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bonnie carter October 16, 2019 at 11:33 am

Tickets for Fri night available?


2 Harold Povilaitis October 17, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Thank you, Lynn, for such a perceptive and insightful review for this TREMENDOUS production … it is YET ANOTHER triumph for Barrie’s daring and innovative Talk Is Free Theatre !!!

Fans of musical theatre … do NOT miss this RARE opportunity to appreciate this ground-breaking Rodgers & Hart musical … in a superlative production which is made EVEN MORE special by its intimate setting !!! What an absolute and rare joy it is, to have such an impeccable and ideal cast delivering these R & H musical gems with their NATURAL voices, with NO amplification !!!

BRAVO to the whole cast and creative team … and especially to the outstanding director Esther Jun !!!