NODA representative, Jon Fox, reviews the recent production of the 1950’s musical “The Pajama Game” by The Nomads in association with Bookham Light Operatic Society, at The Nomad Theatre in Surrey (find us).
Bookham Light Operatic Society – “The Pajama Game” – 12th May 2016 by Jon Fox
This tuneful and popular musical premiered on Broadway in 1954 and is a regular on the amateur circuit. Set in a Pajama factory in the American Mid-West, the central plot is of the new factory superintendent Sid Sorokin falling out with the grievance committee leader Babe Williams over a pay increase demand whilst simultaneously falling in love with each other.
A mid-west American accent (or any American accent) is not easy for most British people and, in this production we had good and average among the various players. A very strong principal cast backed by a highly enthusiastic and energetic chorus made for a very high performance standard.
The show opened with a most impressive factory scene with a row of real sewing machines being used, together with several ironing boards. The company were all busily going about their business, be it sewing, ironing, portering, supervising etc. A round of applause from the audience! In a show where time and motion study was a recurring theme, not even Vernon Hines the T&M study man could have criticised the pace of events as the story unfolded.
The two leading players were Helen Dixon as Babe Williams and Michael Ayres as Sid Sorokin. The love interest scenes were played with convincing chemistry and both played these forceful characters with passion, bringing stage presence and good singing – none better than the duet “There once was a Man”.
Simon Openshaw was a comical Vernon Hines. Though the butt of humour especially when told to remove his “pants” (trousers) in order to dress in pajamas, he played this jealous character with great truth and retained a likeability. Simon gave a most impressive performance, his two songs being put over really well. His duet “I’ll never be jealous again” with Mabel – played with vivacity by Dreen Legg was a show high spot’.
David Foord-Divers gave us a bombastic Old Man Hasler the pajama factory owner conspiring to cheat the workers out of their pay rise demand. He glowered and raged to good effect and was highly charismatic. Sophie Johnstone also shone with fine singing and strong acting as Gladys Hotchkiss (Mr Hasler’s Secretary)
Dreen Legg was Mabel – Sid’s secretary – and gave a very fine performance. Chris Poplett as Prez was a handsome, womanising union man and gave a very watchable performance despite being landed with the show’s least melodic song in “Her is”. To his great credit, he performed it skilfully, firstly with Gladys and then the reprise with Mae, played by Tracey Gillard, a grievance committee activist who clearly enjoyed herself in the role – as did I watching.
Laura Thomson was a flirty and larger than life Poopsie, one of the factory workers, and really caught the eye, being clearly the best dancer on stage.
Nicole Perrier-Doe also did well as Brenda another grievance committee member. The shamming, work shy factory hand Gus “hurt” by Sid, who pushed him to get moving, was given a chip on the shoulder persona by Mark Leddin, who made much of this smaller role. Colin Barnard was a suitably angry salesman, Max, annoyed at the deliberately badly stitched pajamas.
Peter Hart made the amiable, stamp collecting, Pop (Babe’s father), really come to life. Clearly a highly experienced actor, he gave a polished performance of professional standard.
Among the ensemble were several names I have seen play lead and major roles in other productions and their well drilled acting, singing and dancing fully reflected this standard.
Musical Director James Marr achieved a good balance in the company singing and managed his three piece band with aplomb.
Choreographer Christina Harris, as top choreographers do had worked tirelessly with some innovative routines. I especially liked “Steam Heat” with the three elegant black suited and white gloved dancers, “Seven and a Half Cents”, the stonking “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “The Pajama Game” reprise in the Finale.
Andrew Hamel-Cooke, the experienced director, had his stamp all over this energetic, yet emotionally vulnerable show. The characters were all well cast and scenes ran seamlessly with clever use of lighting by Dee and Tony Bowdery and sound by Clive Vinall and Justin Cobb. Jenny Hasted’s costumes were spot on for the fifties era, as too were the hairstyles.
The “Once a Year Day” company outing with the extremely well enacted knife throwing act was a very special scene. In fact, a lady sitting next to Sue and myself would not believe the knives were not actually thrown!
This was a high energy show, but with well directed contrasts of emotion, pathos and all the characters, apart from the “Villain” Hasler retained a likeability. In my opinion this is an underrated show; catchy tunes abound, it has a strong story and much opportunity for dancing. BLOS made a wise choice to stage this show and did full justice to the show’s writers, and more importantly, to themselves.
The Nomads are members of NODA, which has a membership of 2500 amateur theatre groups and 3000 individual enthusiasts throughout the UK, staging musicals, operas, plays, concerts and pantomimes in a wide variety of performing venues, ranging from the country’s leading professional theatres to tiny village halls.