For the 36th time, college students from Montgomery College and around the nation gather in Rockville for Summer Dinner Theatre. This year, they mount an energetic, hilarious production of the 1950’s classic The Pajama Game.
Over 30 students take the stage for classic tunes and choreography in a story about the funny side of finding love on either side of a strike at a pajama factory. George Abbott and Richard Bissell wrote the book and Richard Adler and Jerry Ross wrote the music and lyrics. Bob Fosse won a Tony for choreographing the original show and the show also won for Best Musical.
The Summer Dinner Theatre is technically a class at Montgomery College, but in actuality, these students spend their entire summer launching two productions. In addition to The Pajama Game, The Wiz will open July 12th. The students and interns take on everything from choreography to waiting tables in addition to courses on auditioning, vocal training, and more.
The Pajama Game was strongest when the whole cast was onstage singing with their powerful voices an performing the tricky choreography by Christen Svingos in numbers like the huge opening “Racing with the Clock,” (that involved some great moves with swathes of fabric) and the classic “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which featured some impressive tango dancing.
Drew Stairs (Sid Sorokin), a freshman from Catholic University, brought a booming voice to his leading man role in his smooth solos “A New Town is a Blue Town” and “Hey There.” Helena Farhi (Babe Williams) was a great union leader and pajama maker, and she came down for the summer from New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts. She has the big Broadway sound down pat for “Not at All in Love” and her rendition of “Hey There.” Farhi and Stairs bring a flirty fun to their duet “Small Talk.”
JP Sisneros (Hines) brings an opera-trained voice to his renditions of “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” and “Think of the Time I Save.” He’s also just plain funny and summons great chemistry with Kylie C. Smith (Gladys), who gets the main solo in the sexy “Hernando’s Hideway.” Kieran Duffy (Mr. Has`ler) makes great stage business out of a bottle of Coke and is delightfully sleazy. Christian Montgomery (Prez), Sarah Frances Williams (Mae), and Allie O’Donnell (Mabel), round out the pals and factory workers surrounding the main pair, in addition to a huge cast of dancing factory workers. As a group they are enthusiastic, multi-talented, and hilarious.
Christian Montgomery and Sarah Frances Williams take on the iconic “Steam Heat” in neon overalls and hardhats and some great choreography. Another highlight was “Once a Year Day,” when most of the cast comes out for a featured dance.
In addition to neon overalls, Costume Designer Peter Zakutansky must have mined a dozen vintage shops for some classic 50’s suits and skirts. They looked well against a backdrop by Scenic Designer Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden, filled with factory windows saturated by Lynn Joslin’s lighting design.
Director Jay D. Brock did not aim for a subtle production, but then, it’s not a subtle musical, and the over-the-top gags work well for an almost sit-com style. It’s shocking how out of date the dynamics between men and women from 1954 feels but how viscerally current and apropos the conflict between management and employee still is.
Musical Director N. Thomas Pederson does a great job with a fabulous orchestra, with this complicated, syncopated score.
The evening begins early with a generous buffet and the actors serve as waiters. The start time is flexible to account for the end of dinner, so the production may stretch into the evening, but Summer Dinner Theatre is one of those Maryland institutions that is not to be missed. This year is a worthy addition to tradition with impressive dance numbers, big voices, and a sweet love story.
The Pajama Game is a wonderful production that is worth a visit just for a shot of inspiration from seeing these young actors pouring their hearts into this classic musical.
Running Time: Three hours, with one 20-minute intermission.
The Pajama Game plays through June 30 at Montgomery College Theatre Arts Building – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.