Monday, 19 May 2014

Theatre review: The Pajama Game


About: The Pajama Game is a buoyantly blissful blend of romance and comedy, based on the novel 7 1/2 Cents by Richard Blissell, with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Richard Blissell,

First staged in 1954, the original Broadway production won three Tony Awards including the Tony for Best Musical, and later picked up another Tony for Best Revival of a Musical for its 2006 Broadway revival.

In 1957 a musical film based on the stage musical was released. The principal cast of the Broadway musical repeated their roles for the movie, with the exception of Babe, who was played by Doris Day.



Rating:


Old-fashioned fun returns to the West End


Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

After the untimely closures of splendid classic musicals Singin' in the Rain and Top Hat there was something missing in London's West End End: some good old-fashioned fun. The Pajama Game may be set a few decades later than aforementioned hit shows, but with a flourish for petticoats and passion it brings back the old-school charm, which makes the classics so appealing to audiences of all ages.

Sid Sorokin (Michael Xavier) joins Sleep Tite Pyjama Factory as the new superintendent and instantly collides with head-strong Babe Williams (Joanna Riding), the leader of the Union Grievance Committee. Despite being on opposite sides within the company - Sid directly reports back to the head, whereas Joanna represents the workers - sparks soon turn into a sizzling romance. But as their attraction grows, so does the tension at the factory as the workers' repeated requests for a fair 7.5c pay rise continue to go unheard. Can Sid and Babe's blossoming romance survive the strike and inevitable fall-out?


Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Richard Eyre's revival of the 1950s Broadway musical debuted in Chichester last summer where it was a roaring success, and we can see why. The joyful production provides an uplifting and refreshing alternative to many of the other shows currently treading the boards of popular West End theatres. Despite the tedious theme of labour dispute running throughout, it is an unbelievably charming, colourful and cheerful little show - exactly what one would expect to find in a good musical.

Xavier, who joined the cast after the Chichester run, was a revelation as Sid, and I'm not just saying that because there was obvious swooning from the audience as soon as he strolled on to the stage. Classically handsome, with a rich musical theatre voice and commanding stage presence, he stole the spotlight away from his fellow cast members. Joanna Riding's Babe, while strong both in voice and personality, felt a little forgettable in comparison. Her portrayal couldn't be faulted on its own, but she was undeniably outshone by her co-star in the scenes and songs they shared.

Despite playing minor characters in the form of Sleep Tite employees Hines and Mabel, Peter Polycarpou and Claire Machin provided some of the best entertainment of the evening with their show-stealing, laugh-out-loud funny and electrifying rendition of 'Never Be Jealous' again.


Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

The other songs were sweet and suited the style and time period of the show very well, but unless you were already familiar with the soundtrack you're unlikely to walk away humming the tunes. The majority were too bland to become truly memorable and were lifted in presence by the excellent choreography and the colourful costume designs, rather than the catchiness of the individual songs. Though the beautiful performance of 'Hey There' does deserve a mention, as the lovely melody was turned into an impressive sequence through clever staging and direction when Sid duetted with himself. It made for a particularly special moment in the show, something I would've liked to have seen more of.

While the show is one tap-dancing and jazzhands-flailing showstopper away from becoming one of the true musical greats, it is good old-fashioned entertainment for the whole family. The cast are unanimously talented, radiating a contagious enthusiasm throughout, and I left the theatre with a big smile plastered on my face.

The Pajama Game is playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre for a strictly limited season until 13 September 2014.


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