In this, the year of what would have been Richard Rodgers' 100th birthday, it's refreshing to find a Rodgers & Hart show being presented in place of the omnipresent Rodgers & Hammerstein classics. The Prince Music Theater mounts a rare revival of the sardonic Pal Joey this Saturday.
"This is juicier and grittier," says Trent Dawson, who plays the title character. "There's a lot of dirt and sexuality. I find myself saying, Wow, they were saying that back in 1940?'" Dawson knows about sexual plots from his work on daytime TV drama (he's a regular on As the World Turns), not to mention his work in 20 Shakespearean productions. Joey is a nightclub hoofer who steps on people on his way to fame. Vera's the rich, older woman from whom Joey makes connections and takes money and sex. "She's a good teacher," says Dawson. Christine Andreas plays the society dame who picks Joey to be her boy-toy and sings how she's "vexed, perplexed and over-sexed again."
Joey is hard to take, according to Dawson. "He's something like a 14-year-old boy, impulsive and myopic but charming."
Gene Kelly originated the role in 1940 and Bob Fosse was a memorable Joey in 1961. Frank Sinatra starred in the 1957 movie version that eliminated the character's dancing. Rodgers and Hart, working with George Abbott, based their musical on a series of articles that John O'Hara wrote for The New Yorker. When the show opened, New York Times writer Brooks Atkinson called it sordid and foul, but he printed a retraction when the show was revived a decade later.
Pal Joey, Nov. 2-17, $25-45, Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., 215-569-9700.