UMT Befriends "Pal Joey"
Utah Musical Theatre's production of "Pal Joey" features (from left to right) Teresa Bramwell as Gladys Bumps, Mark Kelley as Joe Evans and Robert Anthony Jones as Ludlow Lowell.
OGDEN, Utah – Bruce Cohen makes his directorial debut for Utah Musical Theatre with "Pal Joey," a show that may be relatively unfamiliar to Utah audiences, despite being a landmark American musical.
"To the best of my knowledge, it has been staged only a couple of times in Utah," said Cohen, UMT's artistic and managing director. Even the film adaptation, starring Frank Sinatra, took such liberties with the story and score that it differs considerably from the original, gritty stage production that debuted in 1940, Cohen said.
In stark contrast to earlier musical lead roles, which tended to be emotionally shallow, the show's title character presented audiences with musical theater's first multi-faceted, deeply flawed, three-dimensional protagonist. Cohen said "Pal Joey" paved the way for "Sweeney Todd," "Carousel" and "Phantom of the Opera."
"Pal Joey" bombed in its Broadway debut. "Audiences rejected complex characters not easily perceived as good or bad. These characters were too much like real life people," Cohen said.
Society changed a great deal in the ensuing years and the realism depicted in "Pal Joey" came to be viewed in an entirely new light. Still, the challenge for a director remains: how to present flawed, all-too-human characters that audiences find sympathetic.
For Cohen, the answer is casting actors and actresses with charisma and appeal who can also project tragic flaws. For UMT's production Mark Kelly brings the boyish warmth of a young Dick Van Dyke to his portrayal of the rascal Joey Evans. The other leads include local Equity actors Polly Seale and Theresa Bramwell as femmes fatales Vera Simpson and Gladys Bump, and Weber State student Jessica Pearce as Linda English. Rounding out this group is Robert Anthony Jones, an Equity actor out of New York, who is wickedly hilarious as Ludlow Lowell.
The role of Vera is a far cry from Seale's depiction of Momma Ida in UMT's production of "Honk!" last season.
"I knew she had the vocal chops for the role, but I was pleased to discover during the audition how smoothly she could shift between giddy and affectionate romantic lead and tough as nails ice queen," Cohen said.
Cohen credits John O'Hara's rich and witty script full of compelling characters, wonderful songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and exciting choreography for "Pal Joey's" ability to "thoroughly entertain while telling a moral in the end."
"The audience gets to watch someone with a great deal of resource, promise and skill, make silly, non-constructive decisions, and shoot himself in the foot," Cohen said. "Audiences want to sympathize with Joey simply because we ‘know' him. We can relate him to those alternately frustrating and charming characters we all deal with at some point. You want Joey to succeed. You know he has all the tools to succeed. But ultimately what O'Hara has scripted is a very entertaining morality fable."
UMT advises that the show contains three instances of mildly strong language and is best suited for audiences 13 and older. More information is available on the UMT Web site at weber.edu/UMT or by contacting the UMT offices at 801-626-7775.
"Pal Joey" will be performed at Peery's Egyptian Theater, (2415 Washington Blvd.) in Ogden, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6, 7, 11-14, 18-21. A matinee performance will be presented at 2 p.m. Aug. 14. Individual tickets are $18 adults, $16 senior citizens, and $10 for students. Tickets are available at 1-800-WSU-TIKS or 801-626-8500.
- John Kowalewski, director of Media Relations
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