Friday, December 19, 2008

Poor Old "Pal"

Lionel Stander as Ludlow Lowell in the 1952-53 revival of "Pal Joey." The photo is unmarked and I didn't identify it conclusively till recently. But I knew from the Sagittarius on his tie that Dad was acting (he was a Capricorn and dressed soberly--at least till the late 1960s). He met my mom while playing the show on the road after it closed on Broadway.

Last March I borrowed an old copy of the book Pal Joey from a friend in New York. I quoted some choice passages in Pal Joey: Still Wise After All These Years. Little did I know that a revival of the musical was in the works.

Well, the reviews are coming in and let's just say they're...unflattering. Ben Brantley's assessment in today's NY Times begins: "How did a racy little ditty about girl-chasing turn into a dirge?" Worse, he uses the T-word to describe the production:
The vultures of Broadway — those kindly creatures who perk up at the first scent of a turkey carcass — have been circling “Pal Joey”...
Ouch! Unless there's some major retooling, the vultures probably won't be circling more than a month or so.

Out of curiosity, I checked the Internet Broadway Database to see how long the revival ran in which my father appeared: 540 performances, from January 1952 till April 1953. Wow! And he got 4th billing. (Elaine Stritch, then in her 20s, is near the bottom.) Now Daniel Marcus, the guy playing Ludlow Lowell, is #11 in the cast list. Obviously the character has been downgraded; Brantley noted that the book had been rewritten. In marked contrast to Brantley, in 1952 the NYT's Brooks Atkinson pronounced the show a "brilliant production." (He lauded Stritch's "caricature of a tough columnist" and Dad's "unctuously ferocious gangster.") Another NYT reviewer termed it a "happy restoration." I'll bet the current company is wishing for praise like that.

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