Brian Seibert of The New York Times reports:
A new Pal Joey at City Center has reimagined the never-quite-satisfying script to make Joey (Ephraim Sykes) a forward-thinking Black jazz singer.
Joey Evans is a charming cad, a heel, an unapologetic womanizer, a gigolo. He’s a second-rate nightclub entertainer who breaks the heart of an ingénue and seduces a rich older woman, trading sex for money.
In 1940, some people found Joey, the protagonist of the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey, repellent. “Can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” Brooks Atkinson famously wondered in his review for The New York Times.
In the decades since, though, the main charge against the show hasn’t been foulness so much as incoherence. Production after production — the last one on Broadway was in 2008 — has attempted to rescue a handful of great Rodgers and Hart songs from the weak book that John O’Hara cobbled together from some of his demotic short stories published in The New Yorker…
The new story, set in the 1940s, is, as [co-librettist Daniel “Koa”] Beaty put it, “about the evolution of a Black artist” — a forward-thinking jazz singer — “in a world where there was no space for him to be his authentic self and what that costs him.” This is a story, he added, with contemporary relevance: “We’re still wrestling with a world where those the system has not been built for are fighting to have a voice.”
Read more and check out some behind-the-scenes rehearsal photos here.