wed 29/05/2024

The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury Theatre

The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury Theatre

Score 1 Book 0. It's all about the songs in West End transfer from Chichester

Grand union: Michael Xavier and Joanna Riding in 'The Pajama Game'© Tristram Kenton

On the Richter scale of catchiness Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s songs for The Pajama Game are right up there. Quite who did what in their brief but shining songwriting partnership was never entirely clear, though Adler claimed supremacy in the music department. But one thing is clear: the man who brought them on and pushed them forward - the great Frank Loesser - is all over their work like a rash.

It is said he wrote two of the Pajama Game songs uncredited but he could easily have written at least one other. Had Ross not died prematurely after their second consecutive smash, Damn Yankees (a year after Pajama Game) Loesser might almost have been competing with himself.

There’s a line in the show, delivered by its quasi-narrator Hines (the terrific Peter Polycarpou): “This show is about capital versus labour.” The same might be said of the way the cast of Richard Eyre’s Chichester Festival production deliver George Abbott and Richard Bissell’s book - a little too much labour at the expense of the capital. It’s not entirely their fault; the energy is there but the style of a book like this one is so intrinsically the plaything of seasoned Broadway performers that anything counterfeit simply screams foul. Not that I’m claiming the book is up there with the score - it surely isn’t - but it can and did come off the page rather better in the last Broadway revival where the dialogue sounded less like it was strung around a sequence of terrific songs instead of quite the reverse.

Energy as well as style does count for a lot in this show

Two of this cast - Polycarpou (Hines) and Claire Machin (Mabel) - absolutely nail what I’m talking about stylistically in a number which is Loesser (or rather more than Loesser) in all but name - and that’s “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” (a dead ringer for “Sue Me” in Guys and Dolls if ever there was one) in which Polycarpou’s borderline psychotic Hines desperately tries to feign indifference to a series of hypothetical instances of his lover’s infidelity. The temperature in the Shaftesbury went up about 20 degrees for this one. Terrific.

But energy as well as style does count for a lot in this show and though I might have wished for more narrative wit in Stephen Mear’s choreography - not least in the key “Once-a-Year-Day” number and more so “Hernando’s Hideaway” which is lazily predictable - the ensemble work crackles along well enough. On the central romance front, Joanna Riding (Babe) and Michael Xavier (Sid) are strong and engaging leads, she with a touch of the Doris Day chuckle and break in her voice, he with height and suavity and great top notes - not least for the truly innovative number in the score, his duet with that new-fangled dictaphone machine, “Hey There”, which must have been so startling back in 1954. But the foreplay is very much of its time and the long wooing scene where the only premise is will she/won’t she get to make the omelette and will office politics (he, office manager, she, head of the grievance committee) get in the way of romance is hard to keep buoyant in these less innocent times.

Go for the songs - and hopefully they’ll sort the balance issues which from my seat in the stalls had the voices fighting a losing battle with Chris Egan’s brassy trumpet and sax led orchestrations. Then again any show which audaciously puts its title number entirely at the service of the curtain call is ok by me. And for the record, Michael Xavier’s pecs give Harry Connick Jnr a run for his money.

The temperature in the Shaftesbury went up about 20 degrees for this one. Terrific


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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