All-singing, all-dancing strike action

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

The Pajama Game
NIDA production, directed by Tony Knight
Parade Theatre, Kensington, Sydney
Until 19 October
Reviewed by Brendan Doyle

Imagine a '50s Broadway musical about a strike in a pajama factory, performed by 23 spunky, energetic NIDA graduates acting their hearts out in an all-singing, all-dancing night of fun. That's The Pajama Game, the NIDA final year students' lavish production that left me and the rest of the audience wanting more.

Nothing has been spared in this production, starting with huge Rosie the Riveter-type figures that frame the action and amazing sets that drop out of the air, the work of the design students, through to the exciting guest choreography by John O'Connell, of Strictly Ballroom fame.

The Pajama Game is unique in dealing with the issue of trade unionism in a musical, a subject often regarded with deep suspicion in US theatre. Yet this is a classic Broadway musical, based on Richard Bissell's novel Seven and a Half Cents, and has been popular since it opened in 1954. Why? Because it tells, in a style that is joyful, funny and full of vitality, how a group of workers in a pajama factory win a pay rise, thanks to guts, good humour and union solidarity.

Sid (Scott Johnson) is the new supervisor in the factory. Desperate to hold on to his new job, he goes for maximum productivity at all costs. But he hasn't reckoned with the determination of Babe (Jodie Dry), staunch unionist who doesn't hesitate to put a spanner in the works, literally, to convince the boss to give them a pay rise. The two rivals fall in love, and that's the stuff of the drama. But all ends well, Sid gets Babe and the workers get a rise, but not before Sid uncovers irregularities in the boss's bookkeeping!

The full house on preview night gave the performers a rousing ovation, obviously enjoying this feel-good show that by its very vitality scores points for working-class solidarity. Director Tony Knight has managed to get a cartoon-style performance from this cast that is exactly what a '50s musical needs in these post-modern times.

One of the great joys is the unamplified voices and live music, arranged by Graham Jesse using piano, bass, woodwinds, trumpet and drums. The resulting sound balance, quality and clarity are beyond anything you hear from a mixing desk.

These young graduates in acting, design and technical production have put together a show that is hard to fault. One of the best theatre experiences of '96!