The Pajama Game – Shaftesbury Theatre

The Pajama Game

Michael Xavier and Joanna Riding in The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London. Picture: Roy Tan

The Pajama Game continues at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, until 13 September.

A musical about union trouble at a pajama factory in a small Midwest town in 1950s America doesn’t immediately appeal as something worth dragging yourself away from the MasterChef final for.

But then neither did one based on a book of twee TS Eliot cat poems and look what happened to that. So don’t deprive yourself of a real treat.

There’s no set formula for what tickles the public’s fancy and The Pajama Game was not only a palpable hit, running for three years on Broadway from 1954 and 18 months in London (making a star out of Elizabeth Seal), but there was icing on the cake for its creators Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (who died far too young at 29) as the hugely popular Doris Day then starred in the 1957 movie in which John Raitt repeated his stage role as the romantic male lead.

That wasn’t the end of it either because Rosemary Clooney had a No. 1 hit with the instantly-hummable ‘Hey There’, Archie Bleyer’s cover of the frenetic night-club tango number ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ got to No. 2 and Patti Page’s ‘Steam Heat’ reached No. 9.

Now this zingalong Richard Eyre production, transferring from Chichester with at least five songs that are musical theatre classics – because we mustn’t forget ‘There Once Was a Man’ or ‘Once-a-Year-Day’ either – is back in the West End for a four-month spin at the Shaftesbury. And still with the same boundless energy, amazing Stephen Mear choreography, and a near-perfect cast.

Joanna Riding, as the union rep Babe Williams who falls for Michael Xavier’s handsome Superintendent Sid to a background of a workers’ go-slow and management fiddle over a seven-a-half-cent-an-hour pay claim, generates terrific sexual chemistry with her new leading man, the fine-voiced Xavier having taken over from the Chichester production’s Hadley Fraser.

Peter Polycarpou provides much of the humour as the knife-throwing, alarmingly-temperamental time-and-motion man who has a yen for boss Hasler’s ditsy secretary Gladys (Alexis Owen-Hobbs in great triple-threat form as dancer, singer and comedienne).

The spectacular burlesque number ’Steam Heat’ Gladys performs with jets of steam hissing up from the floor is one of the star turns of this joyous evening and she plays drunk with table-clunking aplomb.

The twitchy Hasler, a little man with a loud voice, a big opinion of himself and a guilty secret, is also a lovely part to have – George Abbott/Richard Bissell’s book is full of punchy writing – and Colin Stinton makes a great job of it, as do Claire Machin and Eugene McCoy in the other chief supporting roles.

The dancing is absolutely electric and how Tim Hatley’s two-level factory set is transformed so speedily into gaudy Hernando’s Hideaway is close to a miracle.

Enhanced by Gareth Valentine’s musical supervision and dance/vocal arrangements, the ten-piece orchestra – led by MD/pianist Michael England –ensures that the music and lyrics of Adler and Ross (proteges of the great Frank Loesser in what was only their second collaboration) are in safe hands and the pace never flags in what is as good a British revival of a major American musical as we have seen for many a day.

Jeremy Chapman

Readers may also be interested in:

The Pajama Game – listen to Xavier and Riding in action – News

… and check out this new trailer for the show here!

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