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A CurtainUp DC Review
Boy meets girl at the Sleeptite factory that makes pyjamas. He's management and new in town. She's the union workers rep fighting for a raise. Boy gets girl. After a show of solidarity and a go-slow approach by the garment makers, boy loses girl. But when the money question is worked out, Boy and girl get back together and, presumably, make pyjamas happily ever after.
Breathtakingly complex and fast ensemble numbers are interspersed with endearing solos in one glorious scene after another. "Hey There," "Steam Heat," and "Hernando's Hideaway," have long been part of Broadway's musical legacy; but these are only a few of Robert Adler and Jerry Ross's beautifully written and scored songs to be heard -- "I'm Not At All In Love," and "Once A Year Day," most notably.
The unseen, below-stage twelve-piece orchestra under the partly visible Conductor James Cunningham, plays the intro to both acts too loudly but otherwise supports rather than out-performs the actors.
While Director Alan Paul keeps the show moving at a pretty fast pace, most of the credit for this production's success should go to Parker Esse, one of, if not the best musical choreographer working today. His previous Washington credits include Oklahoma! at Arena and West Side Story at Signatures, both winners of numerous awards.
Esse brings his experience of having been in legendary choreographer Bob Fosse's dance troupe in the opening of The Pajama Game's second act with "Steam Heat," featuring Gladys (Nancy Anderson, more about her later) and the Boys (Tony Neidenbach as Anderson, Jay Adriel as Eddie.) They faultlessly bring back Fosse's signatures -- jazz hands, knock knees, shoulder rolls and bowler hats.
In crowd scenes, Esse has his dancers cross paths, move props and each other with military parade-like precision. The "girls" flip material they are about to sew; at the factory's picnic Esse adds tennis rackets, baseball throws (and a drop), even hula hoops to the dances.
Star turns are plentiful. What a treat to see Donna McKechnie (Mabel), who originated the role of Cassie in A Chorus Line, on stage again. She's still got it -- grace, style, mannerisms and the ability to dance like no other dancer. How can this elegant lady keep kicking at the age of 75? Her turn with hoofer Eddie Korbich (Vernon Hines), an old-style vaudevillian (sans baggy pants), is pure joy and their duet, "I'll Never Be Jealous Again," is one of many highlights. Blakely Slaybaugh (Prez) who has several solos, appears to have no bones in his body. He's as flexible as Gumby Man, maybe even more so, as he makes seemingly impossible comic moves that never fail to provoke laughter.
Nancy Anderson's Gladys, is a marvel. She sings and dances superbly. Her comic timing is perfection particularly when she does a very funny drunk in "Hernando's Hideaway," another show-stopper.
The leads, Britney Coleman as Babe Williams and Tim Rogan as love interest Sid Sorokin, are perfectly cast. Their voices are strong and they dance very well. They manage (probably due to excellent mics calibrated by Sound Designer Daniel Erdberg) to reach every quadrant of Arena's four-sided stage. Lighting by Robert Wierzel, particularly when he spotlights solos, enhances performances.
The entire cast seems to be having as much fun as the audience. Here's to more tried and true old Broadway musicals of which this is one of the best in a production that creates plenty of steam heat.
Overture/ The Orchestra Racing with the Clock / Factory Workers, Hines A New Town Is a Blue Town/ Sid I'm Not at All in Love/ Babe, Factory Girls I'll Never Be Jealous Again / Hines, Mabel Hey There/ Sid
Racing with the Clock (Reprise)/ Factory Workers Sleep Tite /Company Her Is Prez/ Gladys Once-a-Year-Day/ Sid, Babe. Company Her Is (Reprise) / Prez, Mae Small Talk /Sid, Babe There Once Was a Man/ Sid, Babe Hey There (Reprise)/ Sid Act Two Steam Heat Gladys, The Boys Hey There Babe Think of the Time I Save Hines, Factory Girls Hernando's Hideaway Gladys, Sid, Company Seven and a Half Cents Prez, Babe, Factory Workers There Once Was a Man (Reprise) Babe, Sid The Pajama Game Full Company
The Pajama Game
Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell
Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Directed by Alan Paul
Choreographed by Parker Esse
Music Direction by James Cunningham
Dance Music by Michael Dansicker
Set Design by James Noone Costume
Design by Alejo Vietti
Sound Design by Daniel Erdberg
Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel.
Cast: Jay Adriel (Eddie); Nancy Anderson (Gladys Hotchkiss); Katie Arthur (Swing); Britney Coleman (Babe Williams); Elliot Dash (Pop); Maggie Donnelly (Brenda); Alexandra Frohlinger (Sandra); Edward Gero (Hasler); Ben Gunderson (Joe/Helper); Eddie Korbich (Vernon Hines); Donna McKechnie (Mabel); Tony Neidenbach (Anderson/Dance Captain); Heidi Kershaw Quick (Virginia); Bridget Riley (Doris); Tyler Roberts (Swing); Tim Rogan (Sid Sorokin); Paul Scanlan (Max/Salesman); Blakely Slaybaught (Prez); Gabi Stapula (Mae); Kara-Tameika Watkins (Poopsie); Casey Wenger-Schulman (Carmen); Victor Wisehart (Charley); Phil Young (Boris/Helper
Running time: 2 1/2 hours including intermission.
Arena Stage/Fichandler Theatre, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC; arenastage.org; 202-488-3300
October 27 to December 24, 2017.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson, November 8, 2017 performance.
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