Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Pajama Game at Musical Theatre Southwest

There are some musicals that many of us, even theatre folks like myself, have never seen, and "The Pajama Game" is one of them. Debuting on Broadway in 1954, it's best remembered in theater history as the show that helped launch a young choreographer named Bob Fosse. Dig deeper and you'll find out the show's understudy later went on to be well known on her own, a young Shirley MacLaine.

But, over at Musical Theatre Southwest the musical is being given new life in their black box performance space. Jessica and David Aubrey, a real life husband-and-wife team, play the show's lead couple, which allows their natural chemistry to shine as Babe, the head of the grievance committee, and Sid, her new boss, find their affection for each other.

If Babe's values seem fairly normal by today's terms, imagine how forward thinking she must have seemed to the original audiences, and Jessica's interpretation allows for her to remain true to the era while also pushing the boundaries of what '50s society expected of women. Reminiscent at times of an early Mad Men throwback in costuming, David's version of Sid remains likable and amiable, despite being pitted as representing the out-of-touch administration at the Sleep Tite pajama factory.

Directed by Terry Davis, with musical direction by Lina Ramos, the plot centers around the wage war between workers and administration, with a book and score composed by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, based off the novel 7 & 1/2 Cents. If the rallying cry for union workers to stand against the establishment seems a bit antiquated to today's crowd, it is the show's charm, as well as the music and movement, that makes it appealing, if somewhat thematically dated.

Luke Loffelmacher created his Fosse-influenced choreography to shine through for the "Steam Heat" dance number, one of the show's iconic moments. Performed by Elizabeth Rathburn, Jonathan Ragsdale and Bernie Salazar, the number opens the second act, and is one of several stand-alone moments, where the music and the movement are completely unique to the rest of the show.

Another stand-alone moment built into the show is "Hernando's Hideaway," sung by the character Gladys and played by Janine O'Neill. Janine finds her way through Gladys' many unpredictable shifts with a sense of believability that speaks to her natural talent as a comedic actress, and delivers a strong vocal performance throughout.

Other strong character actors are peppered throughout the play, such as Kathy Wimmer's Mabel, and Prez, played by Warren Wilgus, whose character perplexed me the most. Only in the '50s would adulterous, philandering affairs be presented as a comedy of errors...but Warren's conviction and strong voice carry his character through the many questionable decisions that Prez makes.

Catch the show for yourself, it runs until August 18, and tickets can be purchased online at The immediacy of the black box environment allows you to be up close to the action, and allows for a very different viewing experience for the theater goer, check it out!

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