Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Pajama Game"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"The Pajama Game"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Newport County's Swanhurst Chorus, under the direction of Jonathan F. Babbitt, presents its 15th Annual Tribute to Broadway with Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' "The Pajama Game", based on the novel "7 1/2 Cents" by Richard Bissell. Originally performed on Broadway in 1954,ran for 1063 performances, starring John Raitt and Janis Paige, this show is just the ticket to raise spirits during the current economic crises, the story centers on a Trade Union dispute concerning a 7 1/2 cent raise between the workers and management at the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory in Iowa. Predictably, love blossoms amidst the conflict with a happy ending guaranteed. It is straight out of the 1950's in style and content, this is a boy meets girl, boy fires girl, boy resolves labor problem, boy gets girl back again storyline. The original show won 3 Tony Awards and it contains several highly recognizable numbers including "I'm Not at All in Love," "Hey There," "Once a Year Day," "There Once Was a Man," "Steam Heat," and "Hernando's Hideaway". (A Broadway revival was done in 2006 starring Harry Connick Jr. and Kelli O'Hara) This high energy show is presented in a dinner style theatre setting with intimate staging with the audience sitting on the factory floor. Jonathan not only directs, musically directs, plays one of the minor roles, plays the piano but also cooks the fabulous dinner, too.(Andrew Gustafson is the percussionist)The meal choices with as much salad and rolls you can eat consists of a filet of sesame-crusted salmon finished with a balsamic vinaigrette reduction or Chicken Vanderbilt, a boneless breast of chicken finished with a spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and tomato basil cream sauce as well as fresh green string beans, mashed potatoes and coffee with a dessert buffet. The 21 member cast do topnotch work in this well known show earning them thunderous applause as they enter the stage modeling their pajamas at the curtain call.

The stage is a black box set where the 20 scene changes can be accomplished quickly with the cast moving set pieces on and off. The action moves from different areas of the factory, the picnic grounds, Babe's kitchen and the most elaborate set for "Hernando's Hideaway" which is a show stopping number. The stage manager who keeps things running smoothly is by Harry Gustafson who also plays the mean boss, Mr. Hasler who insists he is a fighter and won't give in to the workers demands until Sid finds that Hasler has been fixing the books for the past six months.(The more things change, the more they stay the same with the crooked behavior in today's society, too.) The multitude of 1950's style outfits are by Caroline Plowright and Charlotte Solly. From the opening note to the curtain call, this hard working cast never let up for a moment capturing the hearts of the audience by taking them back to enjoy the 1950's.The harmonies of the group numbers send chills up your spin with their diction and clarity with lead soprano, Lisa Babbitt who is Jonathan's wife. She also plays Mabel, the secretary with the cat style glasses. She also choreographs the show with the tango and "Steam Heat" dances as stand outs and gets to show off her lower register in "I'll Never Be Jealous Again" with Hinesy and her upper one as one of the dancers in "Steam Heat". Group numbers include "Racing with the Clock", the title number, "Sleep Tite" and "Once a Year Day". Leading the cast as the new foreman, Sid Sorokin is Bobby Sylvia with his well seasoned theatre background, Clark Kent without the glasses look and a fantastic strong baritone voice and as the girl who is head of the Grievance Committee, Babe Williams is Sophie Plowright, a pretty brunette with a strong alto voice. The girl workers swoon every time he walks by but he feels unwanted upon his arrival in Iowa from Chicago in "A New Town is a Blue Town", then after he meets Babe who denies being interested in him to the other girls in "I'm Not at All in Love" while she sings and dances with them. They sing the heartbreaking "Hey There" separately while tugging at your heartstrings while their love duets include the tender "Small Talk" and the exuberant "There Once Was a Man" which sounds like a Slim Whitman type of song. Their acting chemistry shines through in these roles as do their singing and dancing talents, too. Sophie gives this ingenue a strong backbone when she stands up for what she believes in even thought it gets her fired at the end of Act 1.

The secondary comic leads are played by Rob Bongiolatti as Vernon Hines, the Time study expert and Charlotte Snowden as the sexy long legged blonde secretary Gladys who is Hines' girlfriend. (The original Gladys, Carol Haney won a Tony Award in this role and her understudy, Shirley MacLaine was discovered by Hollywood while doing this role, too.) He has many funny lines which he delivers to garner much laughter. Hines explains to the audience that there is much symbolism in the play. Rob sings the title number to open the show, then vowing to not be jealous of Gladys, he does a soft shoe and duet with Lisa in "I'll Never Be Jealous Again" which he contradicts very quickly by dreaming of all the men Gladys is with during a nightmare sequence in the second act after he drinks himself into a stupor. His manic movements as this character are wonderful especially during the knife hurling scenes and during "Think of the Time I Save". This song tells while done tongue in cheek of how he wears his suit to bed, shaves in bed and mixes all his breakfast ingredients together not to waste time in the morning. The chorus girls make faces and react during it making it even more hilarious. The sexy Gladys is wonderfully by Charlotte. Her first number is with the womanizing Prez who is married but is putting the moves on her in "Her Is". She opens the second act with the hot dance number "Steam Heat" where she, Lisa and Mattie wear tuxedos, with red bow ties. Charlotte's acting drunk in the nightclub scene is very humorous and her tango with Bobby is fantastically done especially when she dips him instead of vice versa. (Cigarette lighters are used in this number in place of the matches that were used back in the 50's.) Skirt chaser Prez is beautifully played by Jeremy Hansen who first chases after Gladys, gets his comeuppance when he puts the moves on Mae. She becomes the aggressor much to his surprise. Erin Toppa plays the strong willed girl wonderfully. Jeremy not only sings "Her Is" with Charlotte and Erin but does a duet with Sophie which rallies the union members called "Seven-and-a-Half Cents" where they figure out what to do with their money in five, ten and twenty years. Brandon Clark plays Max who emcees the pajama fashion show at the curtain call. Although some of the dialogue seems dated by today's standards, don't let that keep you away because the show keeps you entertained all evening long with the talent of the cast winning you over with their energetic portrayals. Kudos to all the cast members in this show. So for a fun filled night of song and dance with a trip back to the 1950's be sure to catch "The Pajama Game" before time runs out. (I played Max the salesman back in 1980 in RI with professional actor, Eric Lutes as Sid Sorokin which was his first theatrical role.)A raffle is also held at every performance to keep the Swanhurst Chorus is business during these tough economic times as are the ticket sales for this well done show.

"The Pajama Game" (6 - 15 March)
SWANHURST CHORUS
Fenner Hall, 15 Fenner Avenue, NEWPORT RI
1(401)682-1630

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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