The Theatreguide.London Review
Shaftsbury Theatre Summer 2014
Bouncy, tuneful, funny, with opportunities for star turns and just enough plot to hang the songs on and not get in the way – what more could you ask of a Broadway musical of the 1950s?
Not a lot, which is why The Pajama Game, while not on the pinnacle level of, say, West Side Story or My Fair Lady, represents the Golden Age of the musical at its best.
And now, sixty years to the day from its Broadway premiere, comes this transfer from Chichester, promising and delivering a classy and entertaining Good Night Out.
With a book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell based on Bissell's comic novel, and with songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, The Pajama Game appeared while Broadway was still a major source of American pop music (Rock'n'roll was just around the corner), and several of its songs were covered by other singers and became big hits – at one point the show had three of the top ten in the US.
(Adler and Ross had one more show, the equally successful and hit-producing Damn Yankees, before Ross's early death, and Adler went on to a long career as a producer.)
The plot can be summed up in a short sentence: the foreman and the union rep fall in love. Factor in an impending strike, a shifty boss, a comic efficiency expert and a lot of singing and dancing boys and girls and you've got just about all you need for a hit.
O K, it helps that the songs include 'Hey There', sung into and played back from a dictaphone, 'Steam Heat', the dance number that announced to the world that Bob Fosse was a choreographer to be reckoned with, 'Hernando's Hideaway', comedy with a Latin beat, and a dozen others.
The current production is directed by Richard Eyre with an emphasis on all-American high spirits, nicely expressed in choreographer Stephen Mear's big stage-filling dances to 'Once A Year Day' and 'Hernando's Hideaway'.
(With 'Steam Heat' Mear takes the only possible route, forgetting Bob Fosse and completely re-imagining the number, and it works just fine.)
Michael Xavier is appropriately manly as the foreman and Joanna Riding irresistibly feisty as the union gal, and it's a shame that there isn't more chemistry between them.
As the time-study man Peter Polycarpou (playing the first month, to be replaced by Gary Wilmot) is not a natural song-and-dance man, and a couple of his numbers that should be show-stoppers don't quite make it, but he brings a lot of comic energy to the role.
Alexis Owen-Hobbs plays his girlfriend as generic dumb blonde but redeems herself in 'Steam Heat' and her other dancing, and Colin Stinton is droll as the villainous boss.
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Review - The Pajama Game - Shaftsbury Theatre 2014