Sleaze on Stage
Rodgers & Harts foray into complexity comes to The Shed
By brett campbell
When Pal Joey opened on Broadway on Christmas Day 1940, it must have startled theater goers who were more accustomed to bubbly love songs and happily-ever-after endings from its creators, the music and lyrics team of Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart. Their score does contain some gorgeous ballads and upbeat numbers, especially the hits “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “I Could Write a Book.”
But the tale, based on the penetrating short stories of New Yorker writer John OHara, offered much darker fare ã and more realistically complex characters, including a manipulative rich widow and the title character, a sleazy Chicago nightclub operator whos an anti-hero more akin to those seen in 1950s and •60s movies than Depression-era shows.
Over the decades, various productions starred Gene Kelly, Harold Lang, Elaine Strich, Bob Fosse, Stockard Channing and even Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth in the typically Hollywoodized film version, complete with an inauthentic happy ending. The Shedds annual summer musical running June 16-19 offers a concert version ã including singing, dancing, acting, live orchestra and costumes of this great American musical, starring Shedd regulars William Hulings, Siri Vik and Evynne Hollens in the major roles. Pal Joey seems a lot more contemporary than most stories of its time, and its timeless music makes it worth seeing in any era.
Typically, The Shedds summer season has meant musicals and the Oregon Festival of American Music. This year, for the first time, the concert hall is maintaining a full schedule of concerts by touring performers, which is great news for Eugene music fans. The night before Joey opens, The Shedd BRING’s the Helene Blum-Harald Haugaard Quintet from Denmark to perform contemporary and traditional rock-tinged Danish folk music on fiddles, mandolin, cello, guitars and percussion, plus Blums vocals. Her husband Haugaard, one of the great folk violinists, also writes songs in the Danish folk tradition, plus orchestral, dance, theater and film music, and has plenty of experience with more experimental ensembles. Any fan of modern folk and even Celtic music will find plenty to enjoy here.
On June 20, The Shedd BRING’s newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Dr. John and his band The Lower 911. Along with the Neville Brothers and Allen Toussaint, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) occupies the top rung of New Orleans musical royalty. Starting out in the 1950s, he played guitar with Professor Longhair and other Big Easy legends, then switched to keyboards, became a prominent LA session musician and songwriter and broke out as a solo artist in the late 1960s with his swamp psychedelic classic album, Gris-Gris. He revisited that sound on last years Tribal CD, a multiple Grammy winner, the “Night Tripper” is a must see for fans of blues, funk R&B and New Orleans music.
Cozmic Pizzas Tango Infusion variety show on June 11 will feature neo-tango masters Mood Area 52 purveying their cabaret, electronica and Eastern European music influenced tangos, along with dancers in a tango variety show. MA52 plays a benefit for Japan earthquake victims the previous eve at Sam Bonds. Speaking of exotic dances and music, the Ala Nar performs Middle Eastern music with belly dancer Yemaya at the Granary on June 18.
Of course, the big summer music news is the Oregon Bach Festival, which well tell you all about soon, but for a foretaste this Thursday, June 9, check out Bach expert Julia Browns recital of the harpsichord works of J.S. Bachs son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard.