Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins
The Flint Community Players kicked off the New Year with a stunning presentation of *Rent.
Just kidding, it was really – The Pajama Game, with book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and directed here by Stevie Visser.
It was an exceptional night in Flint weather-wise – 55 degrees at the end of the show! The patrons were primed for an evening’s entertainment and they were not disappointed.
First, the Rick Doll set is clean, with many exits and entrances – well used by the cast. The two levels differentiate the Executive (management) side of The Sleep Tite Pajama Company and the lower level – the shop floor (labor).
The Pajama Game, a 1955 Tony Award winner, is tremendously allegorical with several recurring themes that still resonate today. The struggle between labor and management obviously, was a recurring theme, and quite timely, considering the current political climate. Additional themes were presented, that mirrored today’s headlines: sexual harassment in the workplace, equal rights among the genders and showing women of influence as a positive thing. The strength of organizing and unionizing were also on display.
Of course the play was not that heavy. Set in a small town in the Midwest during the 1950s , the employees at Sleep Tite want the 7.5 cent an hour raise enjoyed by all other pajama manufacturers. This theme of union strength and of course the sexual harassment sadly rings true still today – 60 years later. Machinations, on both sides, lead to the frivolity and fun. At its heart though, TPG, could be a love story.
The love story involves Sid Sorokin, deftly played by Joshua Bleau, the newly hired supervisor and Babe, portrayed by Carla Feamster, the Union grievance committee. These two lead the play and present most of the songs. Bleau has a clear, beautiful, strong singing voice that grounded the production and kept the action moving forward. Feamster also had a nice singing voice but seemed overwhelmed at times by the band. When her vocals broke through we heard a poignant response to Bleau’s courting. Feamster was a nice casting choice for Babe who struggled to overcome the glass ceiling, fight for her fellow union member’s rights and deal with Sid’s overtures.
The Union Prez was played by Brett Beach. Sleazy and very animated but not out of place, Beach had a strong voice both singing and talking. Like many of the cast his vocals were a bit muddled at first, but he relaxed and came on strong later. He represented the sexual predator as he hooked up or tried to hook up with all the ladies at Sleep Tite. Sadly Prez was married.
To delve any deeper into the plot would give away any details that the audience needs to view/discover on their own.
The pacing was a bit slow at first as the cast gained their stage legs. I’m sure several minutes could be trimmed from the nearly 3 hour run as lines and cues are tightened. I suspect opening night jitters. The cast gained momentum and finished the first act with a rousing finale.
The second act opened with a hot number – quite literally – “Steam Heat” one of my all-time favorites. The Steam Heat dancers were wonderful and set a nice pace for the second act.
Another strong number was “Hernando’s Hideaway” featuring Sid, Gladys – adroitly played by Holly Meyers (the boss’ secretary) and eventually the whole cast.
There were other strong performances by the large troupe. Hines, the put upon floor manager, was nicely played by Tim Ruwart. He puts on a knife-throwing act at the annual company picnic that must be seen to be believed! Mabel, another secretary was well portrayed by Rebecca Pauli.
The audience’s attention was held throughout and a few even dressed the part wearing their PJs. (I see you Colby and Casey!)
In parsing my notes the word “volume” appears a few times. I applaud Visser’s choice to not body mic the cast. This is an intimate venue and actors should be able to reach the audience. Some of the problem was that the music was loud. Nice, but loud. It should have been adjusted.
There were a few inaccuracies that bothered me: touchtone phones in the 50s, twist off beer bottles and I suspected Frisbees. With a bit of research, though, I learned that the Frisbee came out in the late 1950s.
Visser did a fine job directing. Clean efficient set changes, crisp exits and entrances, a well-used stage. The themes were presented but did not overwhelm. There was a lot of inside fun; from a plug for the next show (Dial M for Murder), to a cute way of telling patrons to still their electronics, and the afore mentioned *Rent. (The theatre tried to get the rights to Rent).
So, did our intrepid lovebirds overcome her firing and the constant labor struggle to become a happy couple? Did the employees at Sleep Tite get their raise? Did Prez ever get his comeuppance? Will the Company fill their orders on time? Will there be a strike?
Come see this delightful production, presented at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. in Flint, and discover the answers!!
Brave the cold weather (now) and enjoy a fine theatrical performance.
The Pajama Game continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week (1-12, 13, 14 and next week 1- 19, 20, 21). For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com