Chichester Festival has become the place for musical revivals in recent years, with their version of Sweeney Todd, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, sweeping this year's Olivier Awards, narrowly beating their Kiss Me Kate which also received multiple nominations. Having enjoyed both of these productions in their London transfers, I already knew the quality to expect from a Chichester show, so when I saw that Sir Richard Eyre was directing Hadley Fraser and Joanna Riding in a revival of The Pajama Game, I knew it was time to finally take a trip down to Sussex.
Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' 1954 classic all-American musical The Pajama Game is a love story with a backdrop of an industrial dispute in an Iowa pyjama factory. Sexy new super-intendant Sid Sorokin instantly falls for ballsy Babe Williams when he moves to Sleep Tite. The only problem is he's management and she's the head of the union's grievance committee, and their timing couldn't be worse, as the union are on the verge of striking for a 7 and 1/2 cent rise. While certain reviewers seem more concerned with the politics than anything else (I'm looking at you, Quentin Letts), The Pajama Game is above all a good, old-fashioned love story, with a huge heart, lots of laughs and enough energy to power the pyjama factory for a year. My face hurt at the end because I'd been smiling constantly, either because I was swept up in the joy of songs like There Once Was a Man, Once-A-Year Day and Seven and 1/2 Cents, and Stephen Mears' exhilarating choreography, or because I was just so happy to witness up close such sublime performances from the whole cast.
It was an incredible treat to see the two leading performers in action. I've been listening to Joanna Riding for the last decade, in Martin Guerre and The Witches of Eastwick, and have always been impressed by how she can express so much of the story just through her tone of voice. It was really exciting to finally witness the Olivier Award winner's acting and dancing abilities as well as hearing her sing live. As for Hadley Fraser, it wasn't until the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert that I was struck by his wonderful, rich voice (and his looks!). I was meant to see him in Les Misérables as Javert opposite Ramin Karimloo's Val Jean, but unfortunately he was ill that day, so I've been waiting for an opportunity to see him live ever since. His hauntingly beautiful duet with himself on the dictaphone- the classic Hey There (You With the Stars in Your Eyes) - is the highlight of the show.
There is no footage of the show available yet, so in the meantime treat yourself to some of Hadley's own music, which I have been listening to on a loop since I got back from Chichester.
Unsurprisingly, it's extremely difficult to get a ticket but it's worth it if you can to see the production in such a tiny, intimate space. The Evening Standard's review called the production 'unimprovable' and I have to agree. I'm already looking forward to the inevitable West End transfer.
The Pajama Game runs until 8 June at the Minvera Theatre in Chichester. More information and ticket booking is available at www.cft.org.uk/the-pajama-game