The Pajama Game, which opened last night at the 5th Avenue Theater, is a singing-dancing delight of a show – with lots of clever bits and theatrical effects to keep you muchly entertained. There’s toe-tappin’, head-bobbin’ music, a very, very talented 27-member cast and wonderful new orchestrations (Bruce Monroe) that pops with percussion (Ken Travis, sound design). The choreography by Bob Richard is fabulous fun! As executive and artistic director David Armstrong put it: “It’s a mid-century gem from Broadway’s golden age”…and, sometimes it is just nice to get a break from the present and step happily back in time. These are those times; and, last night was that night for me.
The 5th Avenue Theater successfully brings back the 1955 Tony award-winning play of that year, ably directed by Bill Berry, with clever sets that surprise and colorful 1950’s costumes that look swell and swing on stage, (those pedal pushers, organdy underskirts and fabulous vintage dresses!). It has many catchy tunes by the talented team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. They only wrote two Broadway shows – both Tony best plays ’55 and ’56 for this show and Damn Yankees before Ross died at age 29 in late ’56; and, suddenly the streak was broken. Take a peek at the Sizzle Reel on the 5th’s website. I loved the numbers: “Once-a-Year-Day”, “There Once Was a Man”, “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway” each musically very different, full of energy and theatrically exciting!
The company of the Pajama Game at the 5th Avenue. Photo by Tracy Martin.
Though it is basically an upstairs/downstairs love story with a union strike in the background there are really no big political messages or morals – just a timeless statement on the value of compromise (oh, now there’s a message!); and, some good old-fashioned throw-back musical theater with great voices and moves! I, and the happy audience around me, broke into applause many times throughout the evening. The leads Josh Davis (Sid) and Billie Wildrick (Babe) were great. But, for me the two cast members that really shone were Taryn Darr as Mae (great dancer!) and Sarah Rose Davis as Gladys (great comedic work).
The set design by Carol Wolfe Clay is inventive and rich. Lighting by Robert J. Aguilar set a tone and time for the piece. Costumes by Rose Pederson finished-off the professional packaging that (if not screaming it…) said, loud and clear – this is Broadway caliber musical theater. Go see!
Added Bonus: This play will be done with an all-student cast, production team and orchestra March 17-18. This is part of the 5th Avenue’s Rising Star Project designed to give students the complete musical theater experience. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy musical theater and spur the next generation of actors and musicians on than by attending! Tickets.