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Monday, February 20, 2017

Review of "THE PAJAMA GAME" at The 5th Avenue Theatre — No slumber at this lively party.

The Pajama Game, at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, now through March 5, 2017, invites your news-weary brain to slip into something more comfortable. But don't expect to get any sleep. This rollicking musical packs great music, dance, and song into a tale of workplace romance, office politics, and labor union woes, all with a happy resolution. Based on a 1953 novel called 7 1/2 Cents, by Richard Bissell, it portrays both romantic and economic conflicts in a story about the struggles employees of the Sleep-Tite pajama factory face when they ask for a raise in that amount. The company's owner, Mr. Hasler (David Pichette), will have none of it and expects his handsome new hire, Supervisor Sid Sorokin (Josh Davis) to support and enforce his views. When Sorokin falls for the union's Grievance Committee head, Katherine "Babe" Williams (Billie Wildrick), the sexual tension heats up, especially with the two of them on opposite sides of the issue. The story is dated, true, but put it in the context of society in the 1950s, get past the issues, and just enjoy it for what it is.

Sid Sorokin (Joshua Davis) and Katherine "Babe" Williams (Billie Wildrick)  in The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit Tracy Martin

George Abbott and Richard Bissell wrote the book for this musical, which first opened on Broadway on May 13, 1954, winning Tony Awards® in 1955 in three categories— Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, for Carol Haney, and Best Choreography, for Bob Fosse. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross wrote the music and lyrics for this and their other hit, Damn Yankees, before Ross died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1955. Unlike other teams, Adler and Ross were each both composer and lyricist and contributed their skills equally. Post war musicals, like the era's pop music (not counting rock 'n' roll) had a tamer, more civilized sound than during the Swing Years. The energy of The Pajama Game harkened back to the spectacularly jazzy and lively musicals of the 1930s. Tunes like Steam Heat, Hey There, There Once Was a Manand Hernado's Hideaway thrilled audiences and became hits in their own right. 

Gladys (Sarah Rose Davis) dances at Hernando's Hideaway in The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit Tracy Martin

No group of musicians could have performed these tunes better than the fabulous orchestra at The 5th Avenue Theatre did when I attended on opening night. With musical direction by Joel Fram, this orchestra deserves much of the credit for The 5th Avenue having become the nation's supreme home for musical theater. The 17 members were flawless in their abilities. Even the volume seemed perfect. And speaking of sounds, Sound Designer Ken Travis made magic. Touches like the hiss of steam irons helped bring it all to life.

The company of The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit Mark Kitaoka
Director Bill Berry brought out the absolute best in this talented cast, where even minor parts make major contributions to a production packed full of fun. Here is an Ensemble so full of characters with distinct and memorable personalities. The chemistry of the lead couple felt realistic in their portrayal of the hot and cold, angst and ecstasy of being madly in love.  The first chance to hear Davis sing was his solo number A New Town is a Blue Town. The power of his voice made me eager to hear more. Then, when he and Wildrick sang as a duo, I loved the way their two fine voices seem as made for each other as their characters were. They blended beautifully, which is not always the case. 

Hines (Greg McCormick Allen) and Mabel (Shaunyce Omar) in The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre. 
​Photo credit Mark Kitaoka
Other relationships, whether romantic or casual, offered just as much sparkle. Factory foreman, Hines (Greg McCormick) has a serious jealousy problem concerning his flirtatious girlfriend, the boss's secretary Gladys (Sarah Rose Davis). He deals with it (unconvincingly) with hilarious help from the receptionist, Mabel (Shaunyce Omar) in the song I'll Never be Jealous Again. Omar, McCormick, Omar, and Davis all infused their characters with so much personality they will stick in your mind. So will the boss, Mr. Hasler. Pichette gave a fun and fiery performance. So did Taryn Darr as Mae, the hot blooded, redhead union member. Other fine performances were given by Kyle Robert Carter, as the union "Prez," Allen Galli, as Babe's "Pop," and the charismatic Lauren Du Pree in the role of the employee Brenda and as a member of the Ensemble.

Prez (Kyle Carter) and Mae (Taryn Darr) in The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit Tracy Martin
Bob Richard's perfect choreography (including the tap numbers I always crave) contributed so much to the revelation of character and emotion, as much as any singing or acting. Director Bill Berry, in addition to allover excellence in direction, would be the one to thank for the impactful touches of physical comedy so important to the enjoyment factor in this production. This cast is obviously having a great time, and the audience feels that vibe. 

Outside of the non-stop movement and actual dancing, the greatest visual impact came from the wow-worthy set designs, costumes, and lighting, by Carol Wolfe Clay, Rose Peterson, and Robert J. Aguilar, respectively. Wooden posts supporting the roof inside the factory magically turned into the trucks of leafy trees in a park or surrounding a house. Period perfect clothing was a delight, and the lighting used during the scene of the company picnic on a summer day seemed so natural I could almost feel the heat. Other times, as in the nightclub scene at Hernando's Hideaway, creative use of lighting made the mood.

The company of The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit Tracy Martin
Whenever I watch a performance, I think about what it takes, including behind the scenes, to pull a great show together. Everyone involved gives it all they have. However, even as a reviewer who likes to emphasize the positive, I still often observe aspects of plays and musicals that, in my opinion, detract at least slightly. On our long drive home after each show we see, my husband and I discuss and compare our impressions. In this case we heartily agreed that this production of The Pajama Game is a masterpiece, possibly the best musical we have ever seen at The 5th Avenue. Dare I call it flawless? YES! For the first time ever, I will!

I recommend going to the theater's online box office right now to order tickets for The Pajama Game immediately. 

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