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Presented by: The Production Company

Date Reviewed: 20th July 2006
Venue: StateTheatre, Victorian Arts Centre
Reviewer: Simon Parris

Thank goodness for the Production Company! With the legit houses of Melbourne dark, we are lucky to have at least one musical company giving work to professional actors, directors and designers as well as providing fantastic entertainment for musical fans. (Not that there isn’t a world of brilliant musical performances throughout the Melbourne amateur theatre scene but there is something special about seeing a professional show!)

With The Pajama Game, TPC have fulfilled their mission to bring back rarely performed shows. Not seen in Melbourne since 1957, Pajama Game has been brought vividly back to life by a large, hard-working cast and a production team with an eye for detail.

With period shows such as this where the sexual politics are quite out of date with modern practices (How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is another example that comes to mind), there is a choice for the director to make – either have the cast perform the whole show tongue-in-cheek with a knowing wink to the audience or have them immerse themselves in the period and act in accordance with the time being portrayed. Terrence O’Connell chose the latter and has succeeded in creating a charming world where factory workers thrill over a workplace romance and go to any lengths for their seven-and-a-half-cents raise.

The large ensemble are perfect in their commitment to the look and actions of the period (1950s). Special mentions go to

Ian Stenlake (Sid) and Pippa Grandison (Babe)

Anna Burgess as the breathy dumb blonde and TPC mainstay Rod Waterworth in a well-deserved cameo. Effort had clearly been put into developing characters within the ensemble and these came across very clearly, adding to the colour of the story. The chorus were well served with three sets of costumes, not to mention a fourth set for the fabulous pyjama fashion parade finale – which featured a fun uncredited cameo from Melbourne’s own ‘pajama’ king Peter Alexander (generous sponsor of the production).

Having recently been enjoying the cd of the Tony winning 2006 Broadway revival cast of The Pajama Game starring Harry Connick Jr, I was concerned that my expectations for the music would be too high.

Rachael Beck (Gladys), Peter Olsen and Sean McGrath performing Steam Heat

These concerns were swept away from the first notes of the overture, as conducted by the highly talented and experienced Peter Casey. With Annie Get Your Gun (2004) and Kiss Me, Kate (2005), TPC had been able to use the new orchestrations from the recent Broadway revivals of these shows. The Pajama Game revival was too recent for them to acquire the new orchestrations. The original work, however, proved thoroughly enjoyable especially as heard with the excellent sound design. The score contains several standards, including Steam Heat, Hernando’s Hideaway and Hey, There.

Choreographer Alana Scanlan did a stunning job in creating witty, character driven movement that served the story. Steam Heat was of course a highlight, as were the fun and games of the company in Once-A-Year-Day and the hilarious dance break and mime actions of Hines and Mabel in I’ll Never Be Jealous Again. The tightness of the company in numbers such as Hernando’s Hideaway belies the two week rehearsal period.

Ian Stenlake as Sid Sorokin was in fine voice and made a handsome, charismatic leading man. Pippa Grandison, despite her unfortunate wig, was an endearing, sassy heroine as Babe Williams. Together these two made a sexy, totally believable couple with great chemistry. Their duets were great, especially There Was Once A Man. Despite the predictability of the boy-meets-gets-loses-gets-girl storyline, the traditional end of act one split was still dramatic in its execution thanks to the commitment to the story and characters by these two actors.

Rachel Beck in another unfortunate wig (these wigs were made more noticeable by the fact that the chorus girls all appeared to have styled their own hair in the period, which looked much more natural) used her multitude of skills to bring the singing and dancing comic character of Gladys to life.
Adam Murphy gave a solid performance in the comic role of Hines. Adam was possibly a little young for a character role like this, but his dancing skills were appreciated. Julie O’Reilly (who played the comic female roles in The Producers) was a hoot as outspoken secretary Mabel. David Harris gave Prez a distinctive look and was fun as a self confident womaniser. Peter Hosking showed great acting skill in making two such distinct characterisations as grouchy boss Hasler and Babe’s loveable Pop.

Every time I think TPC have raised the bar as high as I think they can, they raise it again. Pajama Game had more sets, props, costumes and lighting effects than ever. Plenty of old fashioned sewing machines, typewriters and phones added

David Harris (Prez) and Rachael Beck (Babe)

authenticity. The sets were painted in cute pajama-style stripes. Possibly the extra performance TPC have added to each show this year has given them a little more money to spend. The performance I attended was basically full, with over 2,000 happy theatregoers who went out into the night humming the tunes and smiling over the enjoyable story and antics of The Pajama Game. I was very happy to be one of these theatregoers, and I look forward to Camelot in August!


The Pajama Game plays until this Saturday (23rd July 2006)
Tickets from www.ticketmaster.com.au

Adam Murphy (Hines), Rachael Beck (Gladys), Pippa Grandison (Babe) and company