*** (out of ****)
"Seven and a half cents," as the song from Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' 1954 musical The Pajama Game duly notes, "doesn't buy a hell of a lot."
But just try telling that to the nearly flawless cast of 27 and 17-piece orchestra members from Minnesota's Schneider Theater for the Performing Arts' production of The Pajama Game. Their indomitable spirit has joined forces with John Command's nearly pitch-perfect direction to make this roundly enjoyable revival practically as good as a Broadway show, but coming in at a fraction of a Rialto budget.
It never ceases to astound me when I take in a small regional production that bundles boundless energy and determination to make for an entertaining evening at the theatre, worthy of what "the professionals" of the Great White Way do. And that, my friends is exactly what you'll get by taking in this delightful bit of bliss, just six miles or so southwest of the Mall of America.
To be candid, while I'm quite familiar with Adler and Ross' enjoyable score and I understood that George Abbott and Richard Bissell's story centered on the love affair and conflict between pajama factory manager Sid Sorkin and female union member Babe Williams, I had never before seen a live stage production until now. (I found myself disappointed that the short-lived 2006 Tony-winning revival starring Harry Connick, Jr. as Sid opposite Kelli O'Hara as Babe was sold-out every time I tried getting my hands on some tickets.)
The Pajama Game itself is not necessarily one of the greatest or most groundbreaking musicals of all time. Indeed, it feels like a quaint, nostalgic little throwback to the fifties even with its attempts to highlight the disparity between white and blue collar workers. It also contains a number of tunes that, truth be told, fail to advance the story, shoe-horning in numbers like the more or less unrelated "Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway" merely to showcase the choreography initially provided by Bob Fosse (and recreated here quite well by Command).
But all that is basically a moot point, given the endearing appeal of the talented cast. As Sid, the lanky Michael Kaup scores in capturing the compartmentalized Sid, who's easily able to separate his professional and personal relationships with Babe. Stephanie Anderson imbues her Babe with a savvy, revolutionary verve, never forgetting or betraying her bond with fellow union members, but always a charmer nonetheless. Together, the two have great chemistry blending their voices toward an ultimately harmonious conclusion.
They're buttressed by strong supporting players, including the exceptional loose-limbed Edward Williams, Jr. as the local union Prez and the gorgeous Timmy Hays as one of his many objects of affection Gladys. But most of all, the sensational David Ulrich ignites the show with his Broadway-caliber performance as Sleep Tite's foreman Hines. Ulrich's terrific sense of timing and comedic skills, along with fancy footwork, grabbed hold of my attention right from the start and assured me I was about to see a fantastic production.
Credit also goes to Robin McIntyre for an unusually complex stage design that's most definitely on par with the Great White Way, as well as Ed Gleeman's costume design, which succeeds in evoking the styles of the fifties.
It's true that good things can come in small packages. And for the relatively small package price of just $25 per top ticket, this Pajama Game is most definitely a good thing worth trying on for size.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
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Labels: David Ulrich, Edward Williams Jr., Jerry Ross, John Command, Michael Kaup, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Musical, Revival, Richard Adler, Stephanie Anderson, The Pajama Game, The SOB Review, Timmy Hays