Tuesday November 21st 2017

“The Pajama Game”

Highland Park Players has been presenting sparkling musical productions for 30 years! This is a landmark event in the life of a theater, any theater, and the fact that this is not a theater that is operated by the city it is named after, makes it even more remarkable. The theater began in Highland Park operated by resident of Highland Park, and still remains close with the founding “fathers”, so thus, they retain the name. I must say this. The talent they have is solid enough to grace any stage in and around the Chicago area. Young people hoping to be discovered seek roles in their productions, knowing that they will be seen by large houses, and that a great number of those audience members will be theater patrons that might get them that audtition. I enjoy what they do and try to find the time in the busy theater seasons to fit them in. I am always happy that I did!

For this year’s “fall” production, they have selected an oldie, yet goodie “The Pajama Game” (a Tony Award winner for both Best Musical and Best Revival of a musical). With a book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell (based on Bissell’s novel “7 1/2 Cents” and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, “The Pajama Game” takes us back in time, to a period where unions were testing the waters so to speak and trying to get big business to understand the plight on the worker. There are love stories in the show as well and it is created as most of the old-time musicals were ; A longer first act with overture ( about  10 scenes)and a shorter second act with an entr’acte (usually 6-8 scenes).

For this production, they brought in a very familiar name in direction,  Dominic Missimi ( almost every local theater that has done a musical has hired him) who understands the old-time musical perfectly and to do the dance numbers, choreographer Dina Dicostanzo ( I have watched her dance as well as create over these years). Having a creative team of this caliber is reason enough to attend a show, but adding to the mix Aaron Kaplan as the Musical Director/conductor ( with eighteen wonderful musicians) and you know that you are in for an entertainment experience.

Highland Park Players uses the Leisure Center-Northbrook Theater located at 3323 Walters in Northbrook for its productions. It is a comfy theater with a fairly deep stage allowing their productions the ability to hang scenery as well as move from side to side. Lauren Nichols’ set works  very well, allowing the orchestra to be backstage behind a windowed factory wall. We see them when we are supposed to and only then.Martha Shuford has done an amazing job with the costumes bringing the 1950’s to life in Northbrook. I wonder who’s father’s closet she raided for some of the picnic stuff! Kurt Ottinger’s lighting and Richard Neumann’s sound allowed us to hear and see every aspect of this stunningly well done production. A great number of impressive period  props were assembled by Debbie Szczesniak- well done!

What truly makes a show like this work? Yes, the script and the music are important as well as the direction and the choreography, but when it gets down to the “nitty-gritty” it is the ensemble of players, the cast that makes it come to life and creates the feeling of what the authors wanted to say and have the audience feel. This ensemble hits it out of the park!

The play begins with our narrator Hines ( the very able Mark Anderson) who is the time-study man- his job to make the factory ( Sleep Tite Pajamas) more profitable for Mr. Hassler (Richard Salon). He has the hots for Mr. Hassler’s private secretary, Gladys ( the comedic  Nicole Frydman, who can dance and sing as well as act). Hassler’s other secretary is the elder statesman of the female staff, Mabel (deftly handled by Naomi Hirschman- delicious!). The new plant supervisor is Sid ( Trevor Vanderzee has the looks and the voice , making this character both likeable and loveable). His match, Babe (the incredible Hannah Rose), who is a factory employee and head of the union grievance committee. They hit it off, they fall in love. They have a parting of the ways! They have a happy ending! Back in the days, ALL musical comedies had “happy endings”.

Speaking of “back in the days”, this was the 50’s. Men were above women (at least in the workplace) and in this show, we can see just how they were treated. If you bring a younger person to see this, you will have some explaining to do as there is a great deal of sexism in this dated script. The other ensemble member who truly make his show as energetic and delightful as it is are: Tony Calzaretta ( he is Prez, a perfect example of the sexism, just mentioned), Justine Klein as Poopsie, David Miller as Pop, Jacob Cohen as Max, Heidi Hansfield as Brenda, Alexis Armstrong as Virginia, Jill Schwartz as Mara,Jeri Hart as Rita, Artem Lazarev as Frank, Sean Blitzstein as Charlie, Jamie Davidson as Ted, Chris Johnson as Joe, Scott Schwartz as Fred as well as Anna Marie Abbate, Nicolette DeGuia, Rebecca Fortier, Hayley Himmelman, Sarah Makkawy, Annie Snow and Marnie Warner. Great job! As I always say, these shows are only as powerful as the ensemble that brings them there!

The musical numbers are very memorable and you will be humming on the drive home- “I’m Not At All In Love”, “Hey There!” (several versions), “Small Talk”, “There Once Was a Man”, “Steam Heat” ( a great dance number performed by Gladys, Frank and Virginia- Frydman, Armstrong and Lazarev, who also wows in “Hernando’s Hideaway”). “7 1/2 Cents” is a great number leading up  to the wonderful finale- “Pajama Game”. I loved this production, and having done this show many years ago, found myself wishing that I was on that stage with this marvelous group of performers.

You can only get a chance to be part of this fun through November 5th as the remaining performances are as follows:

October 28th at 2 p.m.

November 2nd at 7:30 p.m.

November 3rd  at 7:30 p.m.

November 4th at 7:30 p.m.

November 5th at 2 p.m.

Running time is just about 2 1/2 hours with a 15 minute intermission and tickets are $25 (11/2 only $20). You can purchase them by calling 847-291-2995 or visiting www.highlandparkplayers.com

The Northbrook Leisure Center/Theater is located at 3323 Walters Avenue (just south of Dundee) and west Phingsten Rd. Plenty of free parking and by the way, very comfortable seating.

Dominic, you are the greatest!

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click “The Pajama Game”!

 

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