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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Pajama Game

"Just an inch too sure of himself for me. &mdash Babe
The Pajama Game
Michael Xavier as Sid and Joanna Riding as Babe (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Richard Eyre's acclaimed production of The Pajama Game is an almost unlikely vehicle for a successful musical. Following on from From Here To Eternity at the off the beaten tourist track Shaftesbury, this 1950s musical is set in a factory making pajamas and the lead girl is a union activist and head of the grievance committee called Babe (Joanna Riding). But to write off The Pajama Game would be to miss some excellent choreography and a stand out performance from Michael Xavier as the new superintendent who is determined to make a successful career.

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.

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The Pajama Game
Words and Music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Book by George Abbot and Richard Bissell
Based on the novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell
Directed by Richard Eyre

Starring: Joanna Riding, Michael Xavier, Peter Polycarpou or Gary Wilmot, Alexis Owen Hobbs, Claire Machin
With: Keisha Amponsa Benson, Dan Burton, Jennie Dale, Nolan Frederick, Richard Jones, Sion Lloyd, Eugene McCoy, Jo Morris, James Wattis, Stuart Winter.
Musical Suopervisor and Dance and Vocal Arrangements: Gareth Valentine
Choreography by Stephen Mears
Musical Director: Michael England
Sound Design: Paul Groothuis
Designed by Tim Hatley
Lighting: Howard Harrison
Sound: Alex Caplan
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7379 5399
Booking to 13th September 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th May 2014 performance at The Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8DP (Tube: Holborn or Tottenham Court Road)
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