Thursday 15th May 2014
This week, Anna and Emily write individual reviews on a group outing to The Pajama Game with some of Starling Art's choir members. Here's what they thought of the show
When I was 17, I came to London to see the National Theatre's West End transfer of My Fair Lady. The moment Joanna Riding took to the stage as Eliza Doolittle, I was blown away by a musical theatre talent I've rarely seen paralleled since. Not 'til now, that is, seeing Ms Riding leading the cast of The Pajama Game in its West End transfer from Chichester.
This is a musical I had no prior knowledge of, except for watching one YouTube clip of Doris Day and John Raitt sing 'There Once Was a Man' in the 1957 movie, so it was a real treat to be exposed to a new story and score.
Set against the backdrop of a pay dispute in a 1950s pyjama factory, Riding plays Babe, a machinist and leader of the Union Grievance Committee who falls for new factory superintendent Sid Sorokin in the midst of cooked books, office romances going jealously, and comically, wrong, staff picnics and drunken mishaps.
It's classic musical fluff in some places, but married to a gritty, working woman with an endearingly feminist outlook on 50s America, it feels refreshingly up to date.
The cast is top rate. Playing Sid to Riding's Babe is the gorgeous Michael Xavier, his chocolately voice melting your heart with effortless grace. Peter Polycarpou and Alexis Owen-Hobbs' lead a superb supporting cast where, under the brilliant direction of Richard Eyre and choreography of Stephen Mear, every actor is the star, each with a clear journey and life of their own. It's what the Eyre and Mear partnership does so well, and is exemplified beautifully here.
Much of the music is melodically simple (and consequently very catchy), but drips with detail thanks to the gorgeous dance and vocal arrangements of my hero, Gareth Valentine, and the orchestrations of Chris Egan. There's a lot going on in that pit to raise the spirits, and boy does it work.
This is how musicals should be put together: with love, care, attention to detail and damn good performers across the company. The Chichester treatment for musical revivals continues to work a charm, and I can't wait to see what various members of this team have in store with Guys & Dolls and Gypsy later this year!
I quite like going to see musicals I don’t know very much about. But while I didn’t know the score or plot beforehand, I did know what a stella creative team and cast had been working on The Pajama Game. The show, a transfer of last year’s critically acclaimed Chichester Festival run, has just opened at The Shaftesbury Theatre, where we saw it earlier this week. Yes, I admit, Anna and I got all fan girl when we saw Gareth Valentine (Musical Supervisor) and Stephen Mear (Choreographer) were collaborating with Richard Eyre (Director) on this piece. Musical Theatre teams don’t come much better than that, so I wasn’t at all surprised when I loved it.
If you want to hear effortlessly cool singing, witness dazzling choreography and see some beautiful actors at their top of their game, I’d suggest you book your tickets now. If, like me, you love leaving the theatre smiling ear to ear, I urge you to drop everything and go tomorrow.
I'll start with the cast. Leads Michael Xavier and Joanna Riding look as good as they sound as Sid and Babe. There were a few moments where the entire audience was holding a breath. (Book your tickets and thank me later, ladies). Xavier gives a unique duet with himself and later gives the audience a treat by dancing in some special pyjamas. He makes singing sound, and look, swooningly easy. It’s great to see Riding excelling as the feisty character Babe, though I didn’t always see the sparks between her and Xavier.
There were some stunning supporting performances, not least from theatre veteran Peter Polycarpou (who you might also know from TV's Birds of a Feather), Alexis Owen-Hobbs’ twinkling toes and wash board physique, and the versatile Colin Stinton as the big boss and rambling father. The entire ensemble were energisingly crisp, making up for the occasional struggle to hear their lyrics. (N.B. I’m sure the sound niggles we experienced during the previews will be worked out soon enough.)
The raw material itself (with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Richard Blissell) wasn’t the thing that lit the flame for me. What makes this revival of The Pajama Game so spectacular is the collaboration of so many great minds and talents, across the board. The set was clever, bar a few moments where the necessities of mechanics trumped site lines. The lighting was stunning, making sense of an occasionally mangled plot. Costumes were sumptuous across the board, and all things considered, The Pajama Game is a very handsome show (the sort you’d want to take home to your mother).
I’ve saved the best 'til last. For me the star of the show was Stephen Mear’s choreography. Witty, pleasing to the eye and - most importantly - integral to the story telling, Mear’s movement is like a cool drink in the midday sun. And like Bob Fosse, The Pajama Game’s original choreographer, Mear is the best of his generation. Theatre dance doesn’t get more exciting than Owen-Hobbs’s 'Steam Heat' or the spectacularly kitsch'Hernando's Hideaway'.
The Pajama Game has a limited run until 13th September. Even if you don’t know anything about the show, take a punt. You’ll enjoy it.
Tickets: 020 7379 5399; shaftesburytheatre.com