Another “oldie, but goodie” has opened in the Chicago area,; this time, up on the North shore in Highland park at The Music Theatre Company. This is a young vibrant troupe under the lead of Artistic Director Jessica Redish, who also takes on the Choreographer’s position in the sharp, but small production of “The Pajama Game”, a wonderful musical, based on the book “71/2 cents” by Richard Bissell, that deals with unions, labor and management back when “7 1/2 cents” truly has some meaning in our lives. The music in this Richard Adler and Jerry Ross musical with a book by George Abbott and Bissell, himself, is very memorable. Songs like: ” I’m Not At All in Love”, “Hey There”, “Once a Year Day”, “Small Talk”, “Steam Heat”, “Hernando’s Hideaway” and many others are ones familiar to us even over fifty years later. That is what I call staying power.
The Music Theatre Company is dedicated to exploring the interest in the musical theater, both old standards and new commissions and experiments. The theater itself is a very intimate space located in Highland Park ( 1850 Green Bay Rd, just North of Central and walking distance from the train station and scads of places to dine and stroll).As, so far, the shows I have seen, the audience is set up on three sides with only two rows of seats on the side and five rows on the back, so as you can see, staging some of the larger musicals is a difficult task indeed. Sarah JHP Watkins, being limited to how much set can be created has done a nice job with the furniture and curtains used. As we enter the theater section from the lobby, we see shelves full of boxes, which gives us the feeling that we are walking into a factory. We are then greeted by some big work tables with sewing machines upon them- and then the action begins.
While the story is about the clash between management and labor and there is a lot to this story, it is also one of clashes in relationships between members of these two factions. Sid, the new superintendent of the factory ( smoothly played by David Sajewich, who has more style than voice, but fits his role well) finds himself going “ga-ga” over one of the factory workers who just happens to be the Union Grievance Committee , Babe ( deftly handled by Sarah Bockel, who has a solid voice, dances well, and has a very winning smile). Another romance is blooming at the factory, again between management, Hines, the time study management person ( a wonderful comedic touch by the able Jason Richards) and Gladys, secretary and keeper of the special key for the President (Dana Tretta is a dynamo in this role and she consistently proves that good things come in small packages- although she is small in size , she is large in talent- her rendition of “Hernando’s Hideawy” is worth the price of the ticket. When it comes to relationships, there is also the funny man Prez (the very funny Tyler Ravelson) who it appears loves ALL the females.
This is a finely tuned cast as directed by Jess McLeod with strong dance and voice in a trimmed down version of the original. Gone is some of the glitz, allowing this production to get into the meat of the meaning of the story as well as allowing us to take in the lyrics of the songs. In particular, in “7 1/2 cents” in the second act, the union people vent just how their lives will be changed by that tiny little raise. Yes, “7 1/2 cents, doesn’t mean a thing, but give it to me forty hours every week, and that is enough to be living like a king” when they go over all the luxury items that this paltry sum will buy them, you see many audience members smile larger than life, but those were realistic back in the days of “The Pajama game”.
Other cast members:Kelley Abell ( who, as Poopsie brings us a very steamy “Steam Heat”- delish!), Donald Brearley ( portraying the unlikeable Mr. Hasier and the lovable Pops, Babe’s father), Patrick Byrnes, Frankie DiCiaccio, Allyson Graves, Nancy Kolton ( a strong character actress, as Mabel who will tickle your funny bone with her antics) Christopher Logan,Kelly Davis Wilson,Creg Sclavi, and Carly Robinson. Not a great number of people, but a great deal of talent and fast costume changes ( costumes by Izumi Inaba) and the props were fantastic ( Sally Weiss). I am not sure is all the pajamas being made in the opening scene were under the control of Inaba or Weiss, but they were colorful and perfectly made. Charles cooper’s lighting works and the sound by Aaron Quick is very audible which is a tribute to a sound man when the actors are not body miked. By the way, the actors help make all the scene changes on the fly, so to speak as many of them are on the way to a costume change so the can re-enter in a new character or setting. Great job!
The music is live – the three musicians led by Matt Deitchman ( on piano) are Tahirah Whittington, Steve Martin and Jed Feder. Nicely done! They are behind the action and never drown out the words that we are supposed to hear. For the most part, this young,energetic and dedicated cast is just that young- and while they do a credible and entertaining job, I do not think many of them even understood what the play was all about. It is really about more than love and clashes between labor and management. It is about our world and the changes back them as compared to now. At the time of this story, unions were of importance, as labor forces were getting underpaid for their labor and management was living high on the hog. This scaled down version shows what it was and why we need to remember. We need to never forget so history doesn’t repeat itself. Despite this, this is solid entertainment and worth the drive up to Highland Park ( the flow of cars on the Edens will be in your favor and gong home will be a snap)
“The Pajama game” will continue at The Music Theatre Company located at 1850 Green Bay Road through May 19th with a performance schedule as follows:
Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Running time- two acts 2 hours 18 minutes
Tickets $40 ( $32 for students and seniors) and can be purchased by calling 847-579-4900 or online at www.themusictheatrecompany.org
By the way- lots of FREE Parking and for those of your driving up, gas is cheaper in lake County, so fill up before you leave town!
To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com go to Review Round-up and click at “Pajama game”