Sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of a darkened opera house, hearing the first notes of an ably-played overture as the audience quiets in anticipation of the curtain going up, seeing the faint outlines of the set and the first actors taking their marks – those are the sensations of live theater at its best. And Fort Totten Little Theater is at its best with the current production of “The Pajama Game.”
This ensemble of talented people, both on stage and off, have put together a solid rendering of this light musical about a serious subject – union and management discord. The setting is the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory where the union is fighting for a seven and a half cent raise. The new supervisor, Sid has an altercation with one of the workers, resulting in a confrontation with the Grievance Committee. Gary Fulsebakke as Sid and Misti Koop as Babe, the Grievance rep, are standouts with their powerful voices, both singly and blended together. Sid declares his intent to stay put with “A New Town is a Blue Town,” and later in the first act he does a tender turn with “Hey There,” sung in response to his recorded voice. Babe denies her attraction for Sid as she and the sewing room girls perform “I’m not at all in Love.” Later as they admit their feelings for each other, Babe and Sid duet on “There once was a Man.”
The love story theme evolves and is echoed by the on again-off again relationship of Hines, the time manager, and Gladys the owner’s secretary. Played with broad comic strokes by FTLT returnee Chris Fixen as Hinesy and newcomer Angela Morford as Gladys these two characters have their own problems getting along. Hines and Mabel, Sid’s secretary, played by veteran Eileen Gray do a very funny piece called “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again,” but of course the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head in the second act. Then there is “Pres,” the union local president portrayed with zest by Rich Johnson to the nth comic degree, who has a definite eye for all the factory ladies as he schmoozes and charms his way through “Her Is.”
The second act begins at the union rally. The factory workers led by Pres and Gladys sing and dance “Steam Heat,” designed to fire up the workers. Back in Babe’s kitchen she sings a sweetly plaintive reprise of “Hey There.” Hines and the factory girls perform “Think of the Time I Save.”
The action shifts back and forth from the factory to Babe’s apartment, from the company picnic to a dive called “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which brings me to what I considered the highlight of the production. Gladys and Sid dance a very funny seductive tango while Gladys vamps her way through the song, followed by a cleverly lit rendition of “Hideaway” by the whole company. Of course all the difficulties are resolved and everyone has a happy (and very funny!) ending.
Page 2 of 2 - This is not the first production of Pajama Game I have seen, but it is the best. Years ago the play was staged by a professional company at Manitoba Theater Center. It was classy, fast-paced and, well, professional. This version has been cobbled together by FTLT’s group of dedicated volunteer performers, set designers and builders, choreographers, singers, dancers, musicians, music directors, stage managers, costume designers some of whom are new and many of whom have done this for decades. It is a joy to watch.
Misti Koop in her first turn at directing for Little Theater does a fine job of getting the best out of each performer. Rachel Markestad’s well-paced piano interludes helps move the set changes along smoothly. Miki Noltimier’s expert choreography is evident in the clever dance routines.
The lighting as handled by Dilyn Plemel enhances the sets and performers. Someone to keep an eye on in future FTLT productions is Gavin Brown. Not only did he produce a very humorous performance as Peter, he practically stole the show as he crept on stage to remove two prop chairs in his off-stage role as stage manager.
Kudos to FTLT! Performances continue through July. Call the ticket office at 662-8888 for reservations. You’ll be glad you did.