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A CurtainUp London Review
The Pajama Game
Eyre's direction of the opening scene has rows of sewing machines and ironing presses as the workers produce pajama bottoms in "Racing With the Clock". We witness the handsome Sid Sorokin's (Michael Xavier) arrival with anticipation in "A New Town is a Blue Town"before an introduction to the tomboyish Babe who with the factory girls sings "I'm Not at All in Love". The comedy interest starts with Mabel, (Claire Machin) and time keeper Vernon Hines (Peter Polycarpou) as they sing "I'll Never Be Jealous Again" as Sid's secretary Mabel tries to teach Hines not to be so possessive about his attractive curvy blonde girlfriend Gladys (Alexis Owen-Hobbs).
The beautiful song "Hey There (You With the Stars in Your Eyes)" is a show stopping number as Sid falls for Babe and sings into a Dictaphone which he plays back. The Company Picnic allows the whole factory to relax in "Once a Year Day". This is the first opportunity for a stand out dance number from the whole company with cartwheels and exciting jumps from the male dancers. A strike over the desired 7½ cents hourly pay rise finds Sid and Babe on opposite sides of the divide until, putting his personal feelings aside, he sacks his girlfriend Babe.
Act Two opens with a number that I would question whether, in the strict musical definition, whether it really does advance the plot. "Steam Heat" is however an opportunity for a stand out dance number with stylised and sexy choreography from Gladys in her tasselled costume, Earl (Dan Burton) and Frank (Richard Jones) with plumes of real steam springing up all over the stage.
A reprise from Babe of "Hey There" is followed by Hines and the Girls singing about the go slow the union has ordered in "Think of the Time I Save". Gladys leads the company in "Hernando's Hideaway" which is initially played in the dark with torches illuminating people's faces and with excTim Hatley's designs are in period and the closing number of the whole cast in pajamas is great fun!
The very handsome Michael Xavier is a real asset to this production with his gorgeous singing voice and I am sure will find a whole new fan base. Joanna Riding sings and dances well, although the characterisation of Babe is slightly problematic. Peter Polycarpou as Hines will be replaced by Gary Wilmot at the beginning of June but the comedy is nicely played here with both Gladys and Mabel. The factory owner villain Hasler (Colin Stinton) ties up an unexpected ending neatly.
The Pajama Game deserves to find an appreciative audience who will be rewarded by witty dialogue and some beautiful tunes. There is a fascinating introduction in the theatre programme from Richard Eyre talking about, how as a child, he listened to his sister repeatedly playing the LP of The Pajama Game the inspiration for this affectionate production.
For reviews of The Pajama Game in New York in 2006 and a complete song list go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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