This review must begin with a HUGE thanks to my friend Sylvia, without whom I wouldn’t have managed to see this show 😀
Lyrics from ‘Once A Year Day’ in The Pajama Game say that for One Day in the year: ‘Everyone’s entitled to be wild, Be a child, Be a Goof, Raise The Roof!’ Boy oh boy was it raised yesterday when I and a whole crew of friends travelled to Chichester to see the production! I knew nothing about the musical when I went in, which made a change for me, but can honestly say this made it all the more enjoyable. It’s a complete joyous romp of a show that I loved from start to finish!
Never have I seen a production with such a feel good factor in every single aspect: the music, lyrics, acting and choreography were all utterly brilliant and their impact and charm they had over me made all the more pronounced by the wonderfully intimate space of the Minerva Theatre; as I’m in my wheelchair it means that generally I’m always near the back or in boxes off Dress Circle, but here I was able to be at front, right in the thick of the action! It led to some awesomely close encounters with the gentlemen in the cast, more on those later! 😉
It was a real honour to be able to see my favourite leading man and the rest of a ridiculously talented cast up close for a change… it really helped me establish a connection to the characters and the action as the story unfolded. The plot of the musical is actually very simple: the workers of the Sleep- Tite Pajama Factory are demanding a raise of 7 ½ cents, and sparks fly between the handsome new factory Superintendent Sid Sorokin & the feisty head of the Union Grievance Committee, Babe Williams here played by Hadley Fraser and Joanna Riding.
Speaking of the cast, before I single a few out to ramble on about how awesome they are, I’d just like to say that they are all phenomenal and while it may seem to some like an exaggeration, I will go so far as to say that I thought they were all perfect. I genuinely couldn’t think of a single thing I would’ve liked to have seen done differently in terms of their performances, both vocally and acting wise. They created such a great sound with equally strong voices across the board and really filled and dominated the space with their infectious energy and boundless enthusiasm.
Each time I see Hadley Fraser perform, I am constantly( and I do mean constantly, every second he’s on stage) reminded of why I became an admirer of his in the first place because, as ever, he blew me away! It was wonderful to see him play such a different character than those I had gotten so used to and loved his portrayal of so much (Javert, anyone? 😉 ), but what struck me most was how effortless his portrayal of Sid was. Many of Sid’s musical numbers have a great sense of joy and fun attached to them, and was great to see Hadley play these because I was reminded so much of his personality offstage! His smiles throughout ‘There Once Was a Man’ & ‘Once A Year Day’ in particular lit up the room, and me smile so much too, and as I discovered much to my delight: my good lord he can dance! His American accent was great too, kudos Hadley!
Sid’s ‘quieter’ moments in the show were also a joy to watch and hear, and here I must mention ‘Hey There’ which, with inspired use of a Dictaphone leading to Sid’s duet with himself was a thing of pure, tingly spine inducing genius. This was a moment where I was grateful for my front row seat as I could watch Hadley’s eyes really tell the story, I believed every single word of Sid’s wounded feelings after Babe’s rejection. Hadley’s ‘A New Town is A Blue Town’ (Sid’s first big number) was great to watch too as he showed the perfect amount of charm and swagger without making Sid appear arrogant… and there were some absolutely brilliant notes which really showed off Hadley’s vocal range.
The close encounters were also great fun, there was a moment where Sid is watching the union picnic waiting to enter, casually sipping a beer. I had to keep reminding myself ‘eyes front, Kerrie, there are other characters in this scene besides Sid’ but it’s really hard to focus when someone you admire is standing feet away from you and making such small, everyday gestures like drinking beer say so much, just through his body language. In the same scene, there was an instant where Babe & Sid collided and Hadley almost landed in my lap! See what I mean about being right in the thick of things? 😀 Not to mention the finale and a *ahem* distinct lack of jammie tops 😉
Hadley’s leading lady was a new face for me in the form of Joanna Riding, and I thought she was wonderful. Her voice has a really warm and lovely tone to it and her Babe was really feisty and a great compliment to Hadley’s Sid in terms of chemistry; I really loved watching them interact, whether it be in the early stages of the show where Sid is smitten and Babe is trying hard to be aloof, or whether they are declaring their love with that stunning rendition of ‘There Once Was A Man.’ I said before how the plot itself is actually really simple, but that by no means detracts from its charm: from the start I was willing the two to be together and loved how their relationship was so down to earth and real, they’d try to have conversations in Babe’s kitchen with her father looking on and such. Like Hadley, Joanna did a fantastic job with the dances and I look forward to the next time I can see her on stage.
Three other new faces for me that I hope also to see again are Alexis Owen Hobbs, Dan Burton & Eugene McCoy. Alexis did a great job as Myron Hasler’s (owner of Sleep- Tite) secretary, Gladys. She’s a very quick witted character whom I fell in love with more and more as the show went on, particularly during the sizzling ‘Steam Heat’where she did some incredible dancing and when she was rebuffing the advances of Prez, played by the equally wonderful Eugene McCoy. Speaking of Eugene, boy oh boy he can bust a move! I loved his voice and sense of playfulness that he bought out in Prez, who, being a terrible flirt and a bit of a womaniser I probably shouldn’t have loved as much as I did, but his rendition of ‘Her Is’ had me chuckling away and reinforced the silly happy grin I’d had on my face from the show’s outset tenfold!
Dan was another reason I was so grateful to have my front row seat, he, like his fellow Jersey Boys veteran Eugene can really dance, and he shot me some wicked smiles! One such memorable instance of dancing prowess involved a KICK ASS knee- slide which ended inches away from my wheelchair, for a minute I cringed as I thought he was going to smash his kneecaps against something and hurt himself!
Another special mention must go to Peter Polycarpou as Hines, the factory timekeeper. I’d seen Peter before on two occasions in Sweeney Todd and thought he was superb, so like Hadley, it was awesome to see him play a character so different to what I’m used to! Hines is extremely paranoid that Gladys, whom he is dating, flirts too much and as a result is insanely jealous. Such an emotion had potential to become really irritating, but this certainly wasn’t the case with Peter in the role, it was extremely funny and endearing… I laughed and smiled so much during every scene he was in due to his faultless timing and wonderfully animated expressions that I feared my face would hurt!
The Pajama Game ends with a line: ‘Nothing’s quite the same as the Pajama Game’ and words can’t express how much I agree with the sentiment. It’s one of the best shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and certainly my favourite I’ve seen this year thus far! I wait with fingers firmly crossed and bated breath for a West End transfer, I’d be back to see it time and again! As always, thankyou to Hadley for being his usual delightful self afterwards, and to all my friends, old and new who shared the day! 😀