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‘Pal Joey’ Puts on a Show

Nico Jaochico is tremendous as Joey in Pal Joey, this season’s musical at the Altarena Playhouse. For a person born in this century to play a sexy schemer from the last is a challenge. But Jaochico nails it, from the cocky jaunt to the way he seems to be chewing gum or gnawing a toothpick when delivering his lines. He transports us back to a time when dames helplessly fell for guys like him who dressed well with slick hair and slicker come-ons, or at least in the black-and-white movies. It doesn’t hurt that he can sing and dance really well.

Alameda Post - the main character in 'Pal Joey' holds a woman by the wrist and speaks
Photo courtesy Altarena Playhouse.

Opposite Joey are the classic fantasy choices—the innocent Linda English, played with a balance of sweetness and savvy by Sarah Elizabeth Williams, or the va-va-voom vixen, Maria Mikheyenko’s Mrs. Vera Simpson, who’s got money, looks and length. Their duet, “Den of Iniquity,” is silly, but they make it soar. The rest of the acting cast is exceptional. Charles Evans plays putzy Mike wonderfully, then Commissioner O’Brien even better. Dan Kolodny and Max Thorne play five roles between them, all equally terrific, and then get their moment onstage to sing and dance and wow the crowd.

Alameda Post - a woman lounges on a couch wearing a nightgown
Photo courtesy Altarena Playhouse.

For me though—and forgive me, thespians—this show belongs to the dancers. Jarusha Ariel (Gladys), Joan Hong (Francine), Jetta Grace Martin (Cookie), Shelly McDowell (Val), and Rachelle King (Jeannie) play the club hoofers and are so good, so thrilling, so wonderful, that I left the theater singing their kicks. In this modern era of musicals where woe and angst rule (Les Miz, RENT, and Spring Awakening), or where the movements are current and cool (Hamilton, In the Heights), to see this quintet on stage working their showgirl legs like the Rockettes was both a surprise and delight. They walked, wiggled, strutted, and swayed with sassy classy steps. Big kudos to choreographer Rachelle King. Scene after scene, number after number, they brought to the stage an energetic brilliance that, backed by the outstanding live band directed by the great Armando Fox, was scintillating. I can’t recall the last time I saw tap dancing live but that alone, the sweet cacophony of their metal tipped shoes percussing the wooden stage, earned the loudest applause from this reviewer.

Alameda Post - dancers in 'Pal Joey' perform
Photo courtesy Altarena Playhouse.

Also incredible in this show are the costumes. From the tuxedos Joey sported to the sleek dresses Mrs. Simpson rocked, they reminded us of how well the refined dressed back then. And cheers within cheers go to designer Ava Byrd, who managed to do something remarkable. This play opened in 1940, an era I honestly don’t know much about. Throughout the show there are funny, nuanced naughty bits, including one point when the dancers borrow from burlesque and, while sitting, fling open their legs. It’s meant to be saucy, but what the dancers wear in that scene, and throughout, mute things just enough to make it fun but not too flaunty. They wear short shorts, cute tops, stockings, and dancing heels more practical than pornographic. These are wholesome hot dancers, fit and flirty and just fantastic.

Alameda Post - a man in a suit and two women in dresses stand onstage and sing in 'Pal Joey'
Photo courtesy Altarena Playhouse.

Of course Pal Joey has a director, Laura Morgan, and an assistant director, Caroline Schneider—and they do an incredible job. They take a story only mildly compelling, set a million years ago without any well-known songs—my seatmate did know a few and gleefully sang along—and make it so fun, so engaging, and so darn entertaining. Well done to all!

Go see Pal Joey. It runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m., through April 28. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit the Altarena website.

Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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