Written as a contemporary piece in 1954,
A bit like Bob Crowe and Boris Johnson’s bromance, but with more songs.
Based on the novel Seven And A Half Cents by Richard Bissell and probably most familiar in the 1957 film version with Doris Day, workers at the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory are demanding a pay rise from entrenched boss Myron Hasler (Colin Stinton) leading them to the brink of strike. Superintendent Sid Sorokin (Michael Xavier) attempts to assert his authority, having only recently become incumbent at the factory, but in doing so fires his love-interest and leader of the union grievance committee, Babe Williams (Joanna Riding). It’s a story firmly of its era, given its siblings of the time were shows like Wonderful Town, Can-Can and Silk Stockings. The book isn’t exactly life-changing, but it has an awful lot of good tunes.
Providing comic relief is factory timekeeper Vernon Hines (Peter Polycarpou, to be replaced by Gary Wilmot from 2nd June) who flirts with Hasler’s secretary Gladys (Alexis Owen-Hobbs) and seeks matriarchal advice from Sid’s secretary Mabel (Claire Machin). Polycarpou and Machin’s comedic chemistry is a potent mix, admirably unleashed in I’ll Never Be Jealous Again where Mabel explores just how much Hines trusts Gladys.
Michael England’s musical direction has made this 60-year-old score as fresh as a daisy. Stephen Mear’s choreography is grand as it is frequent. Tim Hatley’s design seems frugal for a West End house, but appropriate for this limited run and Richard Eyre’s direction breathes new life into this pensioner without ever getting too hammy. But you can’t quite get away from the book being the clichéd boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-again tale that Broadway’s post-war machine was so fond of. If I’m being honest, I also felt some of the songs, pleasant as they were, outstayed their welcome. By the time we’d gotten around to 7½ Cents in the second half I found myself wondering if the number was even necessary at all given the audience had been made aware how things would be resolved in the previous scene.
But as joyful, escapist musicals of an era go, this is pretty much as good as it gets. Bar a little action in underwear and gratuitous flash of Xavier’s (rather impressive) pectorals in the closing number, there’s nothing in here you wouldn’t want your granny to see. Fun, full of hummable tunes and feast of dance numbers, The Pajama Game won’t need a bus pass to the old folks home quite yet.