Chicago Theater Review: PAJAMA GAME (The Music Theatre Company in Highland Park)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 25, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

WHEN UNIONS RULED THE EARTH

Outrageously overdue for revival (the last one was at Marriott Theatre in 2004), this irresistible 1954 Broadway classic harks back to a time when producers could actually pin a plot on a threatened strike by union workers in the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Solidarity, alas, isn’t forever.) Today, just 59 years later, you’d be hard-pressed to find its equivalent.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Music Theatre Company's "The Pajama Game" in Highland Park.

Complete with a second act padded with novelty numbers (including the Bob Fosse signature dances “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Steam Heat”), this instantly likable vintage musical by George Abbott, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross delights with the very salt-of-the-earth characters and solid situations that graced Damn Yankees, their next winner. Clever games in their own right, Adler and Ross’ melodies and lyrics fit each other like a charm. Happily, here they fit the 13-member ensemble just as tightly.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Music Theatre Company's "The Pajama Game" in Highland Park.

Unlikely soulmates Babe, head of the grievance committee, and Sid, a freelance factory superintendent from Chicago, learn that love can reconcile even management and labor, with help from the delicious hit “Hey There,” as sumptuous a melody as was ever created on a Dictaphone. In Jess McLeod’s surefire staging for Highland Park’s Music Theatre Company, Sarah Blockel and David Sajewich never condescend to their characters and root the tale in grown-up, real-life passions.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Music Theatre Company's "The Pajama Game" in Highland Park.

Rollicking work comes from Nancy Kolton as the boss’ accommodating secretary, Tyler Ravelson as the hearty union chief, Donald Brearley as Babe’s matchmaking dad and as the short-sighted Sleep Tite mogul, and Jason Richards as a time-study efficiency expert whose busy stopwatch can’t control his flirtatious fiancée, an effervescent fireball played by Dana Tretta. With moxie instead of mikes, these correctly cast and richly coached performers earn every second on the stage.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Music Theatre Company's "The Pajama Game" in Highland Park.

Among many bravura breakouts, Jessica Redish’s choreography kicks up a sweet storm in a small space in the raucous “Once-A-Year Day” picnic romp and “Seven and a Half-Cents,” an anthem to a raise. It’s amazing how on the basically bare stage of this former Highland Park field house, this less-is-more Equity ensemble can instantly recreate a factory floor full of busy sewing machines, all the clandestine whoopee of “Hernando’s Hideaway,” or Cedar Rapids’ Eagle Hall where the union throws a fundraiser in anticipation of a strike.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Music Theatre Company's "The Pajama Game" in Highland Park.

Strike — it all seems like ancient history when collective bargaining made markets fair as well as prosperous. Well, as the title says it was only a “game.” It’s played superbly in this wonderful North Shore playhouse.

photos by Sarah JHP Watkins

The Pajama Game
The Music Theatre Company, 1850 Green Bay Road in Highland Park
scheduled to end on May 19, 2013
for tickets, call 847.579.4900 or visit http://www.themusictheatrecompany.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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