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"Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" Lounge singer Joey Evens visits Alameda for the Spring


Review by Vince Mediaa

This spring the smooth lounge lizard Joey Evens takes over the nightclub at Altarena Playhouse. A rare production of Rodgers and Hart’s PAL JOEY takes stage through April 28th in Alameda. Directed by Laura Morgan she explains why this show isn’t staged much “The leading man is a heel, and the leading lady is cougar 60 years before the term was coined. It tries to bridge such a wide gap/ as a result PAL JOEY fell out of favor and this musical that helped the American musical grow up became forgotten.” This musical features a terrific cast of local favorites as this company proves even a notorious cad can be likable. The memorable Rodgers & Hart score includes the classics “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “I Could Write a Book.”

PAL JOEY dates back to Broadway in 1940. It was the last show Rodgers and Hart collaborated before Hart died and Rodgers began collaborating with Oscar Hammerstein II. The lyrics are smart, the music is beautiful and the book by John O’Hara is edgy and predates Sondheim's adult themes. In the 50’s Frank Sinatra played Joey in the movie version that added additional songs for him. This reboot at APH with some minor changes is the original Broadway version that made a young Gene Kelly a star. 

Joey Evans played by the polished Nico Jaochico opens the story with “A Great Big Town” as the sharp New Yorker attempts to make a new start in Chicago as a nightclub emcee. It is a rags-to-riches-to-rags story where getting into show business does not solve our anti hero’s problems. It is not the standard musical rom com love story. An older woman, a wealthy society diva Vera Simpson, played by the marvelous Maria Mikheyenko who snares a younger buck Joey with money and her charm.  Joey attracts the attention of many “dolls” but Vera who sings “What Is A Man” takes him as her lover and sets him up in his own club.  

Joey settles in with her despite having met Linda English, a nice but naive “good” girl who likes him, played by the skillful Sarah Elizabeth Williams. Both Linda and Joey sing “I Could Write a Book” sharing their feelings about each other, one of the sweeter duets in the musical.  Both Nico and Sarah show off their confident voices while later in the story Vera and Linda struggle over Joey’s dark side as they sing “Take Him”. The company of eleven actors created a few roles including the chorus line featuring Joan Hong, Shelly McDowell, Jetta Martin and choreographer Rachelle King. The accomplished Charles Evans plays the club owner Mike and is suitably tough but keen as he attempts to bully Evans. The standout Dan Kolodny plays Ludlow Lowell, a gangster agent who wants “in” on Joey's profits. He’s funny and slick you almost forget he is the villain or possibly from Guys and Dolls.  

Maria Mikheyenko is smashing as Vera Simpson.  Her powerful, seductive voice delivers the show’s classic iconic hit, “Bewitched” with power and flair, alive to the pleasure and irony of Vera’s situation. The lyrics speak to her new found passion and her needs as the Chicago diva.  Mikheyenko commands the stage whenever she appears on stage. The ballad “What Is A Man” tells of her constant quest for a man other than her husband.   

The riveting slick Nico Jaochico is an ideal choice as Joey. His smooth look and vibrant voice make Joey believable as someone who has coasted through life on his charm.  Jaochico also captures an underlying innocence in this seemingly dark character, essential if the audience likes him or hates him. It's one or the other; he closes the first act with the solo “What Do I Care For A Dame” and shows off his keen tenor voice under Armando Fox’s music direction.

The delightful Jarusha Ariel plays the clever chorus girl Gladys who is on to Joey’s womanizing and dislikes the heel from the get go. She creates a positive impression as the lead chorus girl, yet it’s easy to see her sudden turn to crime when she attempts to blackmail Joey.  Ariel and the girls' sparkling rendition of “That Terrific Rainbow” is the first hot dance number that sets the appeal for the club numbers.

The song “Plant You Now, Dig You Later” with Val and Gladys in the second Act both prove their upbeat voices with jazzy choreography by King. McDowell as Val does a sizzling striptease in the dance number “Zip” that features the six member stage band under the direction of Fox. As Evans comes into money he opens his own club “The Chez Joey” with Vera’s finances. Set designer Tom Curtian and Elinoar Almagor transformed the Altarena into a Chicago nightclub - and later into a high end venue. Under Mark Decker’s lighting the show girls sparkle. Daniel Debono’s sound design had some issues, at times the live on stage band made it a difficult mix to hear the singers.  

Local favorite Max Thorne has some small featured roles, but he stops the show with his solo  “The Flower Garden of My Heart.”  The costumes by Ava Byrd are highlighted by the gowns Vera wears, and the bright red chorus look of the dancers. Joey had some mix fits - I do get that he opens in an older suit that would look large on him. But later in the story his Jackets should have fit him better. Stage manager Vicki Kagawan encouraged the cast to make smooth scene changes using the props of Susan Dunn that included some classic whisky bottles. 

Morgan's direction is smart and rich with nostalgic flair and creates realistic toxic love among the characters. She includes Joey’s final song “I’m Talking to My Pal”, that puts the emphasis back on Joey who has little to sing in Act 2.  As the story ends we wonder if he follows his interest in Linda into the sunset or leaves town on the bus. Williams as Linda creates a nice sense of ambiguity at the close and Jaochico's performance lets us question the ending. As Rodgers moved on to more family musicals PAL JOEY set the pace on Broadway for adult stories with music. Next up at APH is DOUBT that opens May 31, but in the meantime visit Club Chez Joey and tip your waitress’. 



Music by Richard Rodgers - Lyrics by Lorenz Hart - Book by John O’Hara

Directed by LAURA MORGAN






Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda

Running time: Two Hours with one intermission,

Tickets $35 Adult, $33 Senior, $33 for Students


Ticket Info:

Photos by Grizzly De Haro



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