“Hey There”Artistry Theater in Bloomington Relaunches it’s Theater Season with The Pajama Game.

The Pajama Game reopens at Artistry Theater in Bloomington this week after they cancelled the majority of their theater season last fall. Covid has done a number on a lot of theater companies and Artistry wasn’t the first to cancel shows. Sadly, they won’t be the last. Thankfully after a brief hiatus, this company is back and opening with a throwback musical that takes you back to simpler times. Entering the theater I found exactly what I needed in this antidote to the world of today. It has the look and feel of the musicals on film of the early 60’s that I grew up watching like, The Music Man and Bye Bye Birdie. I’d never seen a production of The Pajama Game before nor seen the Doris Day film. So I went in knowing it’s well regarded having won the Tony for Best Musical in 1955 and Best Revival of a Musical in 2006. But I didn’t know the plot or any of the songs, at least I didn’t know that I knew one of the songs until they sang it. I’m happy to say that it didn’t matter. It’s straightforward plot and I immensely enjoyed many of the songs, and was wowed at several points by some top notch dancing. It’s not ugly or dark, even when someone is threatening another with a knife, it’s played for laughs. A show this silly and wholesome, though also surprisingly modern, almost shouldn’t work but it does. It feels like a a production from another time and for some reason, that seems like exactly what we need right now.

The Pajama Game is a musical that first opened on Broadway in 1954 based on the 1953 novel 7 1/2 Cents by Richard Bissell, the book by George Abbott and Bissell, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The original Broadway production was Bob Fosse’s debut as Choreographer which won him his first Tony Award. The story takes place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory. Sid has just started as the new Superintendent and falls almost immediately in love with Babe who is head of the Union Grievance Committee. Of course when Management and Union fall in love, you just know that a strike is on the horizon. The workers want a 7 1/2 cent raise but the president of the company, Mr. Hasler, refuses to compromise. On opposite sides of the dispute, Sid and Babe will find their budding romance tested. The factory is full of other romantic relationships and interesting characters that lead to some really fun moments and songs. I was particularly thrilled to discover an old favorite “Hey There”, though surprised to discover it’s primarily sung by a male character. I’ve only known it from recordings by female artists like Rosemary Clooney and Kristen Vigard, dubbing for Illeana Douglas in the underrated musical film Grace of My Heart. Other favorite numbers were; “I’m Not at All In Love” sung by Babe and the factory girls as they tease her about the obvious attraction between her and Sid. Hines, the factory timekeeper and jealous boyfriend of Mr. Hasler’s secretary Gladys, has two really funny songs. First is “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” in which Sid’s secretary, Mabel tries to help Hines curb his jealousy. The second is “Think of the Time I Save” in which he defends his dedication to time management and shares his time saving habits such as sleeping in his clothes.

One of best aspects of the show is the cast, It’s filled with recognizable faces and few new ones as well. Eric Morris has the pipes and the look to play Sid, looking right at home with his pants pulled up over is navel. He captures the movements of the era perfectly while his voice is strong and confident. Falicia Nichole holds her own as Babe, her voice matching his perfectly in their big duet “There Once Was a Man”. Matthew J. Brightbill plays the Union President, Prez who is also the factory philanderer. He has the charm and charisma to rally the Union members and sweet talk the factory girls, he’s also the best male dance in the show. Speaking of dancing, there is a fabulous dance performance by Maureen Sherman-Mendez, Elly Stahlke, and Dayle Theisen for the song “Steam Heat”, but if you watch those three in the other dance scenes, you’ll see they are always the best, though to be honest the entire cast does a wonderful job with the choreography. I also want to point out my two favorite supporting performances and their delightful scene together, Serena Brook as Mabel who has the girl Friday role down perfectly, and Carl Swanson who plays Hines. They perform the song “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” and have their own impressive little dance routine to go with it, that scene was just the best.

The Pajama Game is co-Directed and Choreographed by Allyson Richert and Ben Bakken. They keep the show moving along, but curious if they made any cuts for time because the script seems a little light on some connecting tissue between scenes. After the recent production at Lyric Arts, it’s nice to see a show that knows how to transition quickly between scenes and settings. The duo get their highest marks for the dancing which was really in sync. For someone whose first love isn’t dance, I was always entertained by what the actors were doing and impressed with what Richert and Bakken had come up with. Musical Director Evan Tyler Wilson and his Orchestra continue Artistry’s record of ‘A’ level music. It’s the one thing you can always feel confident about at Artistry, the quality of the musicians will always be of the highest order. A quick mention of the wonderful period costumes by Rane Oganowski, I loved the look of everyone in this, particularly the mens costumes had that 50’s style just right. The Set Design by Michaela Lochen was impressive and well implemented. The main set being the factory but smaller set pieces were quickly flown in from all sides to change locations. The design for Babe’s kitchen being particularly well realized as was Hernando’s Hideaway, a night club they venture to in the second act.

If you are feeling a little fed up with the world right now I highly recommend a trip to the past, 1954 to precise. You can get there via The Pajama Game at Artistry. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://artistrymn.org/pajamagame running through May14th. Watch my website in the coming week for an opportunity to join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB) for a Pajama Party with the TCTB. I think we may have a discount code for you as well, which means you can afford to bring the whole family!

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I am also a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB), you can read roundups of shows by my colleagues and I on facebook @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. Follow that group, It’s a great way to see reviews for shows I don’t get to or to get another blogger’s take on one I did. We have some exciting things in the works for 2023 for the TCTB and our readers. Follow us to be the first to know about those happenings like our recent Prom Date with the TCTB that we held on March 4th. If you didn’t make it to that event there’s still time to see the The Prom at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (CDT) thru June 10th . You can view the TCTB Talk Back that we held on March 4th with the CDT Artistic Director and three of the stars of The Prom here https://bit.ly/promtalkback