Updated: Mar 30, 2022
"Jubilant, Sassy...Popping with Percolating Hormones!"
"Tell me!" Those words, seen in cold print, may not look like two of the sexiest words in the English language, but as spoken, shouted and sung by Sean Kato and Hannah Robert in the Academy for the Performing Art’s delicious reinvention of "The Pajama Game," the 1954 musical that gave new meaning to labor-management relations, that simple little phrase transforms the private pleasures of pillow talk into a heady public celebration. And a little novelty number called "There Once Was a Man" becomes a rockabilly pelvis pumper that turns the thermostat way up on a show that has been generating plenty of steam heat all weekend.
Yes, at last, pure escapist fun has come back to Orange County’s stage, where it’s virtually impossible not to have a wonderful time. See passion collide with politics in this exuberant performance that rivals “Guys and Dolls.” It’s a bona fide adult love affair, with all its attendant frictions, translated into the populist poetry of hummable songs and sprightly dance.
For those of us who grew up during the Eisenhower years, the songs from Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score provide a blast from the past. Haunting ballads like “Hey There,” as well as sexy, catchy novelty tunes such as “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” were all familiar standards often heard on the radio. That’s when George Abbott’s dramatic collaboration with author Richard Bissell on his novel, 7 1/2 Cents, along with a pop-hit-drenched score by the team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (“Damn Yankees”), turned into the 1955’s three-time Tony winner called “The Pajama Game.”
The show has been revived twice on Broadway, winning two more Tony’s, and has become a staple with regional, community and educational theatres. The reasons are many, as demonstrated in Tim Nelson’s magnificent production, completing their run today on the Main Stage at Huntington Beach High School. But when you have APA’s brand of talent on hand, budding artists who seem to be tailor-made for the roles, you come to expect the best. Playing for two weeks only, in a final matinee show today, the show enjoyed much critical praise and accolades by theatergoers and critics alike.
So, with fat cat managers cooking the books, robotic middlemen preaching to workers about the creed of efficiency, and union shakedowns looming, this folklore of American capitalism is a trip back in history, accompanied by glorious, exuberant color and sound. Set in early 50’s America (ice boxes, soda fountains, tailfins), it strikes plenty of sparks in the twenty-first-century.
We begin on the floor of the Sleep-Tite Pajama factory. Picture a pajama-making sweat shop environment with women dressed in colorful Donna Reed attire and full make-up. Sewing machines are whirring, the time and motion man is pacing, and the gutsy chorus of factory women is delivering the opening number “Racing with the Clock” as they frantically stitch sleepwear.
Keeping the girls on schedule is Hines, the company’s tightly-wound efficiency expert responsible for meeting production quotas, and also doing double-duty stalking his former fiancée, Gladys (Payton Moore). Long ago he was a circus performer and still carries a knife that puts Bowie to shame, ready to throw blades at any man who talks to Gladys. His antics supply the audience with plenty of camp and slapstick, keeping up with his girlfriend. Can you say, possessive?
“I can tell you precisely per second how many stitches go into a pair of pajamas,” declares Nick Daniel, as the prickly time-keeper Hines – but he’s not the only one counting. The workers want a seven and a half cent raise and they’ll stop at nothing to get it!
When Mr. Hassler, the company’s CEO, refuses to grant his hard-working employees even a trifling raise that would keep them competitive with other factories, the union decides to strike. But even though the battle lines seem fairly straightforward, that doesn’t stop the new floor manager, Sid (Mr. Kato), from hitting on the feisty, tough-talking leader of the factory grievance committee and Union liaison, Babe (Ms. Robert). Pulsing with immediacy, he kisses the brassy Babe, asking her to “be my girl,” and pursues her for the next two hours throughout this musical rom-com. She eventually falls for him, of course, because, rom-com musical, right?
At the show’s center is Ms. Robert, who brings the necessary toughness to the role, while still offering moments of sincere vulnerability, seen primarily in scenes with Sid and her father Pop (lovably played by Mason Creyaufmiller). This gifted actress is the complete package, and can deliver a song with power, clarity and real passion. Together, Ms. Robert’s Babe and Mr. Kato’s Sid make an ardent courting couple, the Beatrice and Benedick you might say, of pajama manufacturing – in complete adoration of one another, yet in merry warfare. That friction is illustrated best in the explosive country and western-fused, “There Once Was a Man,” which is reminiscent of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” in an “Annie Get Your Gun” battle of wits and one-upmanship. One of the most popular songs in the show, it becomes a spirited declaration of equality, sung with home-fried flavor.
Sean Kato as Sid presents a natural charm to the role, rather than the usual more abrasive character. Every earlier Sid I have seen has been in the virile, crooning tradition of Harry Connick, Jr., but Mr. Kato brings moodier, more intricately expressive vocal shadings to his songs (nicely set off by Conductor Gilboe’s excellent orchestra). Every time he speaks, I think Keanu Reeves, but when this love-singed Sid sings his velveteen heart out — “A New Town is a Blue Town,” “Small Talk,” “Hey There” — it’s a time you just can’t miss.
But there are no minor roles in a Tim Nelson musical, and what is striking is the strength of the surrounding cast. To name a few, there’s Mr. Hasler’s mother hen senior secretary, Mabel (Drew Dela Llana); Prez (Gavin Yauchzee), the unhappily married union head with a wandering eye for the ladies; Mae (Sofia Aniceto), a loud-mouthed member of the Grievance Committee, who accepts Prez's advances, much to his surprise; and Max (Shane Gorsage), a top-notch pajama salesman.
As for the ensemble factory workers, Diane Makas’ skirt-whirling choreography effectively highlights a cathartic release of personality once released from the confines of repetitive manual labor, particularly in the elaborate “Once-a-Year-Day” sequence where barriers between management and workers are supposedly broken down, but tensions still simmer. She then doubles the punch in the second act in the tango-flavored “Hernando’s Hideaway,” the absolute favorite scene in the show. That song was also a pop hit for the Everly Brothers in 1961.
"Steam Heat,” a sizzling, stand-out number, featuring a defiant Mae (Sofia Aniceto) and the Steam Heat Boys (Landon Mariano and Nate McDaniel) — an act which would make anyone’s temperature rise — eventually went on to be recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Liza Minnelli and The Pointer Sisters, also becoming a staple of Shirley MacLaine's nightclub act, as well as a Top Ten hit for Patti Page as released by Mercury Records.
A lighthearted adventure of industrial folklore, “The Pajama Game” is bright, jubilant and sassy, popping with percolating hormones, and reminding us that in 1954, the age of rock 'n' roll was just around the corner, and the sexual revolution was only a decade away.
CAST: SEAN KATO as Sid; CHARITY BIELICKI (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and HANNAH ROBERT (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Babe; NICK DANIEL as Hines; EMILY CRABB (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and PAYTON MOORE (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Gladys; MAX SMITH (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and GAVIN YAUCHZEE (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Prez; LILY HORNS (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and DREW DELA LLANA (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Mabel; CARTER MULLIN (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and SETH CHRIST (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Hasler; TAYLOR HO (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and SOFIA ANICETO (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Mae/Steam Heat Soloist; MASON CREYAUFMILLER as Pop; DAPHNE MOYES (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and CHLOE YEAGER (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Poopsie; CATHERINE DOSIER (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and SARAH HENTGES (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Brenda; NOELLA EGELSEE (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and AVI WALTON (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Virginia; SADIE CONWAY (3/18, 3/20, 3/26) and AVA MELGOZA (3/19, 3/25, 3/27) as Mara; MIKEY SMITH as Anna; DAVE ELLIOTT as Charley; EVAN DiCARLO as 1st Helper; BROCK LICHTHARDT as Chuck/Vocal Soloist; SHANE GORSAGE as Max; LANDON MARIANO and NATE McDANIEL as Steam Heat Boys.
ENSEMBLE: SETH CHRIST, JOSEPH COBB, EVAN DiCARLO, COLIN EATON, DAVE ELLIOTT, SHANE GORSAGE, LANDON MARIANO, NATE McDANIEL, CARTER MULLIN, MAX SMITH, MIKEY SMITH, KAI WONG, GAVIN YAUCHZEE, SOFIA ANICETO, ANNIKA AGUIRRE, RYLEE BAKX, LINDSEY BRETT, LAUREL BROOKHYSER, HAILEY COLLINS, ELISE CONLAY, BAILEY CURTIS, CATHERINE DOSIER, NOELLA EGELSEE, KELSIE ECKERT, LIAHNA FLORES, LACI GANIER, SARAH HENTGES, TAYLOR HO, ANABEL IRWIN, KIRA JOHNSON, ELLA KERPER, CARMELA MIARS, SARAH REVTYAK, DYLAN SILVESTRI, AVI WALTON, KELSEA ANDREWS, OLIVIA ARENS, RYLEE BAKX, MIA COLANGELO, SADIE CONWAY, MACAILA DORNEY, CASSANDRA DOW, SHEA HUMPHRIES, TATUM HUNTER, AVA MELGOZA, DAPHNE MOYES, SIENNA SCHOALES, CLAIRE TUNSTALL, TESS WALSHE, CHLOE YEAGER, NOLA ANDERSON, SELAH ANASTASI, KATIA CARBAJAL, LIZZY DELFINO, KAMRYN KUNODY, JAYDEN PREWITT, SOPHIA REYES, NATASHA TEIRMAN, COSSETTE WILLIAMS, AVA CERAMI, GRACE FELLOWS, CHLOE HUGHES, CARMEN MEHRDAD, MIA MEYERS, KATELYN NUNLEY, KARLEIGH RIOS, KAYLEE SMITH.
CREATIVE TEAM: Director and Musical Director TIM NELSON; Choreographer DIANE MAKAS; Orchestra Conductor GREGG GILBOE; Technical Directors JOSH BEHRENS and CHRIS HENDERSON; Costume Supervisor MARISSA SELLERS.
HUNTINGTON BEACH ACADEMY FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS proudly presents THE PAJAMA GAME; book by GEORGE ABBOTT and RICHARD BISSELL; music and lyrics by RICHARD ADLER and JERRY ROSS; based on the novel 7 ½ CENTS by RICHARD BISSELL. Presented March 18-27, Fridays and Saturdays at 7PM, Sundays at 2PM in the Historic Auditorium and Bell Tower, 1905 Main Street, Huntington Beach. All Covid-19 protocols apply for entry. For tickets to future season events and performances, please visit https://www.hbapa.org/see
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report