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Pal Joey

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The Writing of Pal Joey

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

Pal Joey is the undisputed masterpiece of the amazingly fruitful collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It was the last of a series of innovative musicals they produced between 1935 and 1940. Their other experiments included a musical that included a circus, Jumbo; the first adaptation of a Shakespeare play, The Boys From Syracuse; a collaboration with George Balanchine that contrasted classical ballet and contemporary hoofing, On The Town; and the "Hey kids, let's put on a show" prototype, Babes In Arms. Pal Joey did something even bolder than these: it presented a protagonistwe don't like, who does despicable things.

Joey wants to own a nightclub. He goes about raising funds by having an affair with an older, married, rich woman. In our age of sexual frankness, we might expect that a musical comedy from before World War II will tip-toe around such issues. While Pal Joey uses no four-letter words, it makes the relationship very clear: "We've separate bedrooms... one for play and one for show. "All of this was a little much for New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, who carped that you can't draw sweet water from a foul well, but seeing a revival a dozen years later, he admitted he had been wrong.

Other media, in the forties and fifties, couldn't be as explicit as Broadway, and many of Hart's lyrics were altered for radio and film consumption. Even the published sheet music takes all the zing out of "Bewitched," which includes quips such as "horizontally speaking, he's at his very best." And many a singer has been misled into interpreting "Bewitched" as a love song. It is not. It's a woman detailing the reason she enjoys making love to a younger man. "Where it counts, he's adept enough. "The song's many solid jokes are always followed by the phrase "bewitched, bothered and bewildered." The character is talking about the three phases of an affair. At first, you're bewitched by a kind of attraction. Then, you're hot and bothered, exploring each other physically. Finally, the attraction passes and you're left bewildered. Vera tells us she's all these things at once.

Another thing that gets lost as years go by is an understanding of what constituted proper behavior in 1940. Joey and Vera joke about their "little den of iniquity," but that's not a phrase you hear today. Pal Joey provides two contrasting pictures of propriety. We learn of a stripper who only thinks the most intellectual thoughts while she removes her clothes in "Zip." Then there's the younger woman Joey meets at a pet shop. He woos her with "I Could Write a Book," which is a fib, since he's illiterate. She falls, as love interests do, but, after she learns she's been two-timed, she joins Vera for "Take Him," a wonderfully unsentimental duet about removing rose-colored glasses.

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Pal Joey (DVD) from Amazon.com 1957 film version starring Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. Special features include: Poster Gallery, and Original Theatrical Trailer

Cast Recordings

Pal Joey Studio CastPal Joey (1950 Studio Cast) from Amazon.com First recording made of Rogers and Hart's score. This remastered edition features several bonus tracks. The success of this recording led a full revival of the show. Songs include: Overture, You Mustn't Kick It Around, I Could Write a Book, That Terrific Rainbow, What Is a Man?, Happy Hunting Horn, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Pal Joey, Zip, Plant You Now, Dig You Later, In Our Little Den, Do It the Hard Way, Take Him, Finale, Bewitched (bonus) - Vivienne Segal performs and talks to Mike Wallce on the radio show "Stage Struck, and I Could Write a Book (bonus) - Harold Lang (from the TV show "Star of Stars")

Pal Joey New York RevivalPal Joey: 1995 Original New York Cast Recording from Amazon.com Encores concert production starring Patti Lupone, Bebe Neuwirth, and Peter Gallagher. Songs include: Overture, You Mustn't Kick It Around, I Could Write A Book, Chicago (A Great Big Town), That Terrific Rainbow, What Is A Man?, Happy Hunting Horn, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (Encore), Pal Joey (What Do I Care For A Dame?), Ballet -Joey Looks Into The Future, The Flower Garden Of My Heart, Zip, Plant You Now, Dig You Later, Den Of Iniquity, Do It The Hard Way, Take Him, Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered (Reprise), and I'm Talkin' To My Pal

Sheet Music

"Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"I Could Write a Book" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

Pal Joey (Vocal Score) from Amazon.com

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