Monday, May 11, 2015

The Pajama Game by LASALLE College of the Arts - 7 May 2015

Written by Jeremy Lee, photo credit by LASALLE

It’s not often we see stagings of classic musicals like The Pajama Game here in Singapore, on account of them harking from a bygone era and far too ulu (unheard of) for the masses weaned on modern-day big-budget blockbuster musicals like The Lion King, Wicked and Cats, with their slick production values and worldwide popularity.

Classic musical theatre lovers should be grateful, then, for La Salle College of the Arts and its musical theatre degree programme, for occasionally bringing such old chestnuts like The Boys From Syracuse and The Pajama Game to our shores as part of their student showcases. What’s more, despite being student performances, their shows have always generally been up to professional standards, but with tickets going for a song – a bargain that should appeal to any penny-pinching Singaporean.

The Pajama Game, which loosely tells the story of two lovers amid the setting of a pajama factory, opened on Broadway in 1954, and typical of the musicals of the time, has a flimsy plot and love story that may seem clichéd to those living in our modern age of cynicism. However, also usual of the shows of that golden age, it has many excuses for big song-and-dance numbers and quirky songs that do little to advance the plot but provide much entertainment for the audience.

The many big dance numbers suit the young cast well, as it gives them a chance to show off their effervescence and versatility. This they do well, especially in the raucous picnic number “Once A Year Day” where the entire cast combines for a breathless display of dance, acrobatics and boundless talent.

The smaller, comedic songs give individual performers a chance to display their comic timing and expressive ability, with Mitchell Lagos, who plays green-eyed boyfriend Hines, a standout in “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again”, and Matheus Ting, who plays lecherous union chief Prez, campy fun in “Her Is” and its even more hilarious reprise.

The main love story, though, fails to capture our hearts mainly due to it being severely underwritten. The lovers, played by Dennis Heng as new factory superintendent Sid and Catherine Campion as grievance committee head Babe, fall in love, split up, and get back together again at the drop of a hat based on the perfunctory backdrop of their being on opposite sides of a factory wage dispute. The mutual attraction is unexplained and inexplicable, and their final reunion is abrupt and a bit too convenient.

We suspect Heng may have been cast as the lead for his gym-toned body necessary for a couple of shirtless scenes, if you watch a musical for that sort of thing. While he puts up a valiant effort to be the macho leading man, his often 'pitchy' singing voice was a big distraction, especially since he has the honour of crooning the great torch song “Hey There”, and lacks chemistry with his leading lady. Speaking of which, Catherine Campion is a star in the making with her blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe-esque looks, commanding presence and brassy voice. She makes the most of a limited role, and we can’t wait to see what she can do with a meatier one that she can sink her teeth into.

For all the plot holes, though, audiences who don’t give a hoot about “realism” (a ridiculous notion in any musical theatre performance anyway) will enjoy The Pajama Game for the simple fun of seeing this fresh-faced and energetic young cast’s eye-catching performances that has given a new lease of life to decades-old great American standards.

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