I have fond memories of The Pajama Game. Forty years ago (1972) I'd relocated from Melbourne to the coast for a sea-change, several months ahead of my young family. My days were busy, but night-times were empty, so when I was approached by the local theatre group to stage manage its production of The Pajama Game I jumped at the chance, especially in a non-performing role for a change.
I had a great time and made life-long friends with many group members. Apart from all that, it was a terrific production, too.
So when I was invited to review Diamond Valley Singers' current production of the show I was delighted. I mean, a fun show, full of happy memories, 50s retro fashions and social customs (I loved the 1950s) plus a company that really embraces the spirit of community theatre... what more could one ask for on a cold winter's afternoon? (Saturday matinee.)
There are some wonderful songs and situations in The Pajama Game and DVS certainly rose to the occasion. Their trademark enthusiasm and fine choral work were on display, and the principals and minor principals gave one of the most evenly-balanced and universally excellent ensemble performances I can recall from this company.
The orchestra seemed hesitant at times during the first Act, but the second Act was fabulous. I'd recently seen a production of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes", brilliantly accompanied by a young orchestra under the direction of Kirk Skinner (always a first class Musical Director) and I was reminded of it on a number of occasions during Act Two. (It really was good.) So congratulations to conductor Marie-Louise Wright and her team... a thoroughly enjoyable performance, and an excellent musical foundation for the singers, individually and in chorus.
There were lots of excellent performances and fine voices to enjoy and the audience did so, with laughter and applause. Some of the partnerships were quite inspired, especially from a comedic standpoint.
The romantic leads, Tim Warren and Victoria Lock as Sid Sorokin and Babe Williams, the newly-arrived factory supervisor and the hard-nosed head of the union's grievance committee, were well matched and perfectly suited to their roles. Their excellent vocals, sharp timing and totally believable emotional responses took us on a roller-coaster ride as their on-again, off-again romance clashed with their adversarial workplace duties. They set strong artistic leadership and tone for the rest of the cast.
Michael Try and Nicola Ramsay as Vernon Hines and Gladys Hodgekiss, the "time and motion" expert and company bookkeeper, gave very spirited and enjoyable performances, including one of the funniest highlights: a jerky, black and white silent movie (ending with a high-speed chase in classic Benny Hill style, complete with familiar honky-tonk theme and fueled by Vernon's irrational jealousy) replaced the scripted ballet sequence in Act Two. It was a clever creative touch and very professionally done, right down to the fake scratchy film! Two more thoroughly enjoyable vocal and acting performances that held the standard high.
Malcolm Wilton and Doreen Jameison as Myron Hasler and Mabel, the company owner and his secretary, were in fine form. Wilton is a regular in DVS productions and played the role with his customary gusto and dominating physical and vocal presence, just as it should be. He looked and acted the part perfectly. Jameison is a newcomer to DVS, but no stranger to community theatre. Her consistently sympathetic and savvy characterisation (and deft comedic touch) were one more gem amongst the wealth of talent in this production.
Darren Rosenfeld and Meg Warren as Prez and Mae, the union branch president and committee member respectively, were yet another dynamic duo who lifted the overall tone and standard with great voices and acting. Both were completely credible and consistent, Rosenfeld as the harrassed union official determined to win his members a pay rise of seven-and-a-half cents an hour — but with the demeanour of a panic-stricken driver of a runaway bus — and Warren as his perfect counterpart, the blousy, opinionated, gold-hearted unionist who continually tries to win his nervous, indecisive, (and already married) heart. Outstanding, both of them.
Other standout performances included Noel Rawson as the company's travelling salesman (in a scene-stealing cameo), Annette Dick as Poopsie (another disarming gem), with Christine Kounnas as Brenda, Barbara Skewes as Pat and Marlene Di Battista as Lois in several entertaining song-and-dance routines. Alan Flint as Charley (the factory handyman), Kevin Maynes as Pop (Babe’s father), Adrian Boulton as Gerry (the malingerer) and Neil Spitzer asJoe, the trolley wheeler, supported the show with strong, consistent performances as well.
Director Lynne Counsel, a creative mainstay at DVS, has once again led cast and crew to a musical triumph, ably assisted by Graham Ford and supported by Producer Angela Hennel. Counsel's set designs and painting recreated the 1950s’ post-war drabness and flair to match the prevailing moods.
Musical Director Ian Lowe has elicited plenty of vocal excellence in concert withconductorMarie-Louise Wright. Choreography by Doreen Jamieson and Nicola Ramsay added to the overall enjoyment, never interrupting the pace of the show.
Technically, the production was in good hands, despite intermittent, minor problems with radio microphones. Lighting by Ian Craig and Dylan Burns was subtle and appropriate and helped to set moods and changes well.
Overall, a wonderfully entertaining afternoon that was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. I went home singing old favourites like “Once a Year Day”, “I’m Not At All In Love”, “Steam Heat”, “Hernando’s Hideaway”, “Hey There (You With The Stars in Your Eyes)” and “Seven and a Half Cents” at the top of my voice... always a good sign for me.
Great show, Diamond Valley Singers and Eltham Orchestras!
Cuchulainn's Rating: (Four-and-a-half stars out of five)
Neither fear nor favour
The course of true love never did run smooth - especially when it is fickle teenage love