2013 is shaping up to be the year of classic theatre. Many local theatres have added musicals from the 50’s and 60’s to their seasons, evoking memories of earlier times when boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl, and we all cheered. One such offering is the latest production at Town and Country Players, THE PAJAMA GAME.
THE PAJAMA GAME revolves around a labor dispute at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, where the union is seeking a pay raise of 7½ cents an hour (we did say it was a classic musical!) The head of the factory, Mr. Hasler (Jon Knapp) is steadfastly refusing to grant the pay increase, and the union led by Prez (Paul Frank) is threatening to strike. The factory superintendent Sid (Glenn Kraft) gets into a labor dispute which involves the grievance committee, headed by Babe (Amber Marie Payne.) Sid immediately falls for Babe and sets out to win her affections (which he has already done, unbeknownst to him.) The pressures of the labor-management struggle affect their relationship, and they split. Will true love prevail?
The production of a classic piece brings a special issue with today’s society…what was once considered an essential aspect of a musical (at least 2½ hours of entertainment) can be a bit much for the MTV generation. Director Andy McPhee does his best to keep things moving along, and it does move briskly from scene to scene. Unfortunately, the side effect of that is that some of the subtleties of the production are lost, especially in the first act. The words and actions of the performers seemed to be motivated by the need to keep the pace going in some cases.
This production uses pre-recorded music, and really shows the best and worst of this option. The cast obviously had the opportunity to work with the recorded music quite a bit, as the production numbers were very tight, with the chorus knowing exactly when to start singing and dancing. Having a full orchestra gave the production a more polished feel, and gave the performers a solid backup for their talents. The downside of using pre-recorded music, however, is that if a singer misses an entrance there is no way to cover for it. The tempo of the music is also quite speedy, and does not really allow the actors the opportunity to do any interpretation. One song in particular (“There Once Was a Man”) that was so fast, I marveled at the actors’ ability to spit out the words well enough for us to understand them. (I have to acknowledge the quick thinking of Prez and Gladys (Paul Frank and Lucy Fisher) who, when their accompaniment didn’t play, sang “Her Is” a capella. Nicely done and quick thinking!) I wish there had been more flexibility in the recorded score to allow the actors to sell their songs.
Town and Country has a tough task in mounting this production in their space. First is the set…set designer Jon Knapp has constructed an office setting on one side of their thrust stage, with a sturdy set of stairs leading to the theatre’s loft (serving as Hasler’s office). While functional, the unfortunate side-effect is that it creates a number of limited-view seats on the left side of the audience seating. It also appears to limit the ability of lighting designer Walter Hauck to adequately light the stage…the center area, while lit, has a number of shadows, and the actors’ faces are not lit at times.
The performance of the cast was solid. Kraft and Payne as Sid and Babe were likable, and the chemistry grew as the production moved along. Frank was appropriately sleazy as Prez, and Fisher was perky and funny as Gladys. Other performances of note were Robert Moses as Hines (obviously a T&C audience favorite), Sharon Cerauli as Mabel, and Jim Palmer as Pop. The chorus as a group deserves a lot of credit for supporting the principals in this production…from top to bottom, they were well-rehearsed and very tight. The production numbers were a highlight of the show.
Quoting the Director’s note in the program, “Sometimes you just need to get away to a simpler time, to laugh at silly things, and to feel comforted when the good guys win.” Not a bad goal for this production, and I’d say overall mission accomplished. While not without a few hiccups, THE PAJAMA GAME is a nice way to spend a Spring evening (or afternoon.)
THE PAJAMA GAME
Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell
Based on the book “7½ Cents” by Richard Bissell
Directed by Andy McPhee
April 5 – 20, 2013
Town and Country Players
4158 York Road