Pal Joey Synopsis
On a September afternoon in the late 1930s at a neighborhood nightclub on the South Side of Chicago, Joey Evans auditions for an emcee gig with a song and dance routine (“A Great Big Town”). After a few more fancy steps, the club’s proprietor, Mike, catches Joey exaggerating his experience as a performer, having heard about the bit of trouble Joey caused with a banker’s daughter at his last job in Ohio. Mike hires Joey as an emcee for the week. Joey tells a stage kid he used to fly airplanes, but Gladys, a dancer at the club, ushers the kid away, knowing Joey’s reputation for telling tall tales. The rest of the show’s company begins rehearsal (“You Mustn’t Kick It Around”). When Joey is called over to converse with Mike, Gladys and the girls in the chorus continue without him (“You Mustn’t Kick It Around” Reprise).
Later that evening, Joey notices a woman peering into the window of a pet shop. They make small talk about dogs and he tells her an elaborate tale about his very wealthy childhood and a particular instance where, on his way home from “The Academy,” his chauffeur ran over one of their puppies named Skippy in their Rolls Royce just outside his family’s estate. She cries and introduces herself as Linda, mentioning she lives in the neighborhood with her sister until she finds a job. They share a moment, and he tells her that she inspires him (“I Could Write a Book”).
A month later at the night club, a performance is underway (“Great Big Town” Reprise). During the show, Mike notifies Joey about the arrival of “Mrs. Chicago Society,” Vera Prentiss Simpson. As Joey flirt with Linda, Vera callss him to her table. Vera interrogates him, and Joey admits to never having played the Jamboree Club, as his billing suggests. When Joey attempts to play coy with her about his past, Vera calls him the “freshest” person she’s ever met and storms out. Mike, furious over the loss of a potentially business-changing patron, threatens to fire Joey. Instead, Joey makes a deal: If Vera doesn’t return within two nights, he’ll leave the club and Mike can keep his pay. Doubtfully, Mike agrees, and the show goes on (“That Terrific Rainbow”).
Joey calls Linda, but she rejects him, noting that he left her at the club to have a conversation with Vera. He then calls Vera, pretending to be a close friend of hers, but she catches on quickly. He reveals himself and gambles everything by insulting her before abruptly hanging up. With much to lose, Joey is panicked by the risk he’s taken. On the other end of the line, Vera considers Joey and the practical utility of men (“What Is a Man?”).
The next night, as they head home from the show, all the chorus girls that Joey has slighted sarcastically wish him the best of luck on losing his job. Just as Mike counts down one more night for Vera to show up, she appears at the stage door. Excitedly, Mike steps away to mix drinks for Vera and her friend. While Mike’s away, Vera accurately pinpoints the reason Joey had insulted her; fearing for his job but knowing her status, he took a risk by getting under her skin rather than pleading with her. Vera gives him a hard slap across the face and warns him, “I’m older than you, and I’m a very smart and ruthless woman, so don’t try any fast ones.” She then invites him home with her. As he leaves triumphantly, Joey assures the rest of the chorus girls not to worry – he’s “only on vacation, not out of circulation” (“Happy Hunting Horn”).
At a tailor’s shop a few days later, Joey chooses flashy fabrics for a suit. Vera arrives and corrects the tailor’s suggestions, and he obliges her. As Joey gets fitted in the other room, she confesses knowing her place in this questionable dynamic (“Bewitched”). When Joey returns, they both notice Linda, who is now working as one of the tailor’s assistants. Joey shrugs her off and tells Vera that she’s “some woman he met twice” who loves dogs, but Vera catches on quickly. She makes her expectations clear: She and Joey will remain monogamous, at least while she’s invested in him. When Joey goes back to the tailor, Vera tells Linda that Joey is her husband, painting him as a dangerous mob boss whose pants require extra-large pockets to fit his guns. When Joey comes out, Linda slights him, but Joey is unphased (“Pal Joey: What Do I Care for A Dame?”)
In a dance sequence, Joey fantasizes what his own club, Chez Joey, might become upon its opening; a lush, elegant spot with gorgeous women and a spectacular show, starring Joey Evans (“Ballet”).
A few weeks later, on the opening afternoon of Chez Joey, construction continues; the club is nowhere near what its namesake imagined. The director leads the company in a rehearsal of a number featuring Louis, the show’s tenor soloist, along with Gladys and a chorus of dancers dressed as flowers (“The Flower Garden of My Heart”). Mike pulls Joey out onto the stage to do a promotional interview with local reporter Melba Snyder. He starts in on his usual embellished narrative around his not-so-humble beginnings and tragic fall from aristocratic grace, but Melba quickly detects his disingenuous nonsense and unceremoniously moves onto a hurried photo opportunity for the feature. When Mike apologizes for Joey, she remains unphased; in her day, she’s fried much bigger fish than Joey Evans (“Zip”).
Mike sits Joey down with an intimidating man named Ludlow Lowell. Ludlow makes a vague but insistent offer to help Joey earn money as a sort of manager, urging him to sign a contract. When Joey initially refuses, Gladys vouches for Ludlow and convinces Joey to sign. The contract allegedly allows Joey 90% of his income with 10% going to Ludlow for his management fee. Ludlow tells Joey to come by his temporary offices at a hotel (while his main headquarters are redecorated) so they can discuss a meeting for Joey and NBC’s Staff o’ Life Bread program, apparently owned by Vera’s husband. When Joey leaves to prepare for the opening night of his club, Gladys and Ludlow celebrate their successful deal (“Plant You Now, Dig You Later”).
The next morning at Joey’s apartment, Vera relaxes while Joey reads through the tepid reviews of his opening. Vera tells him not to worry about the press and mentions the friends of hers who were eyeing him at the event. She’s happy to be in his little hole of an apartment, because only there can she be certain of him (“In Our Little Den (of Iniquity)”).
A month later at Chez Joey, Linda appears, delivering a waistcoat for Joey. She chats with Gladys awhile, but Lowell arrives and asks her to wait for payment in Mike’s office. Lowell explains the game to Gladys: he is blackmailing Joey, Vera and her husband all separately, without any of them knowing that the others are also paying. Gladys sits Linda down with Lowell, who urges her to help him get money he’s “owed” from Joey. Linda carefully says she’ll think it over and leaves. Though Gladys worries this “shake” may not be easy, Lowell asks her if he’s ever hesitated doing things the hard way (“Do It the Hard Way”).
The next day at his apartment, Joey tries on new jackets while Vera sits half-reading magazines. Linda unexpectedly arrives and asks to speak with Vera privately. Linda warns her about the coming blackmail scheme that Lowell and Gladys are scheming. When Vera asks Linda to be honest about why she would help Joey, Linda’s simple answer is that it’d be dishonest and, with a hint of judgement toward Vera, makes clear that she has no feelings for him (“Take Him”). Vera calls her friend, the deputy police commissioner, and asks for him to come over. She informs Joey of Lowell and Gladys’ plan, and he almost doesn’t believe her until they both show up at his apartment, demanding 20,000 dollars from her, and mentioning a large amount of money Joey owes Lowell as well. Immediately enraged, Joey charges Lowell, who effortlessly knocks Joey out cold. Just as Lowell gets down to details regarding the blackmail, the police commissioner arrives and escorts Lowell and Gladys to the train station, from where they are to leave town.
Vera closes the account held for Chez Joey. When Joey awakens, she tells him that he frightened the two scammers away. She ends their affair and tries to leave the club to him, but Joey, in pride, runs his mouth at her. She leaves, bewitched no more (“Bewitched” Reprise). Joey unsuccessfully tries to withdraw money from the Chez Joey account, and the manager of his building kicks him out for failure to pay rent. Just then, Linda appears, having witnessed Vera’s exit. She invites Joey to dinner at her sister’s apartment and he accepts.
The next day, outside of the pet shop, Joey thanks Linda for a great dinner. He tries touching her sleeve, but she pulls away and says good night, wishing him luck in New York. He promises to wire her about how it’s all going. Left alone, Joey takes a moment to himself (“I Could Write a Book”), catches the eye of a girl passing on the street, and follows her offstage.