Pal Joey Redux

Joey Back on Broadway

From Robert Saliba:
I am very happy to hear about this fall's Broadway production of Pal Joey. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Richard Rodgers:

Q: Then came Pal Joey, which was quite a significant show in the history of the musical theatre. Is it correct that John O'Hara wrote to you suggesting that his stories be turned into a musical?

RODGERS: Yes, he did. Larry (Lorenz Hart) and I were in Boston with one of the shows, I forget which it was, and I got a letter up there from John, who was on the Coast. He was in California doing a picture, I think, and he wrote to me asking me what I thought of the idea of turning the Pal Joey character into a musical? Well, the Pal Joey character is the signer of a series of letter(s) that O'Hara composed about a nightclub hoofer. I'd read them all in The New Yorker, and I didn't write back to John. I sent him a wire, and said, "Come East as soon as you can. The idea is wonderful."
And he did come East, and eventually the show turned into Pal Joey.

Q: Was Larry Hart enthusiastic about the idea?

Rodgers: Oh, yes. He loved it. Loved it.

Q. It was such a departure for you. So many of the characters would be called disreputable.

RODGERS: They certainly were.

Q: Were you advised by friends or supposed experts in the theatre not to do it?

RODGERS: No, We weren't...I think it got pretty good reviews generally - not wildly enthusiastic ones, but good enough to give us a run. It must have hit a nerve in Brooks Atkinson (noted theatre critic of the times), because he was very strong about it. He said it was scabrous and he ended his review saying, ""But of course you can't get sweet water from a foul well."
And then, of course when the revival was done two years later, he was wonderful about it. He said he couldn't understand what had been wrong about it. The thing is that he didn't understand the show, didn't appreciatre it. He gave it a great review, and of course, as you probably know, this is the only case on record of a show doing better in revival than it did originally. A tremendous success....

Q: It probably is the most popular Rodgers and Hart score today.

RODGERS: No, I don't know. I don't think it's as popular. It ceratinly hasn't as many popular songs as Babes in Arms.

Q: No, but isn't Pal Joey probably the Rodgers and Hart show that is done most often today in various circuits.

RODGERS: Yes, I think so.

From the Richard Rodgers Reader, Geoffrey Block, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2002. Interviewer was Kenneth Leish.

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