Curtis Bannister wows in ‘The Pajama Game’

 

as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(left to right) Aalon Smith as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

If you don’t go see The Pajama Game at The Theatre at the Center for any other reason, go to hear the booming tenor voice of the hunky lead, Curtis Bannister.

The actor who has appeared on NBC’s Chicago Fire, plays Sid Sorokin, the “Chicago guy” and newly hired superintendent at Sleep Tite, a pajama factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The factory is a hotbed of union activity and sexual innuendo – both surprising themes for a musical that premiered in the mid-1950s.

The musical started as a 1953 novel, 7 ½ Cents by Richard Bissell based on his experience working in his family pajama factory in Dubuque, Iowa.

Opening to rave reviews on Broadway in 1954 with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, the Tony Award-winning show inspired the 1957 film starring Doris Day. You’ll recognize songs such as “Steam Heat,” “Hey There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes)” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

The story line follows the union’s demand for a 7½-cent-an-hour raise. It all comes to a head when the union grievance chair, Babe Williams, played by Elizabeth Telford, has to choose between her loyalty to the union and her love for Sid, the supervisor who must find a compromise to win back his girl.

Curtis Bannister as Sid in Pajama Game. Brett Beiner Photo)
Curtis Bannister as Sid in Pajama Game. Brett Beiner Photo)

TATC’s impressive cast also includes the talented Kelly Felthous as the slightly slutty secretary Gladys who knows she is “the most beautiful girl in North Keokuk, Iowa.” She is fresh off a starring role in “Dames at Sea”  which she also knocked out of the park.

Jason Grimm shows his comedic chops, stealing the stage as Hines, the factory’s “time study man” who doubles as a knife-throwing showman and is lovesick for the elusive Gladys.

Rounding out the talented cast are Cynthia Carter as Sid’s secretary, Mabel, Dan Klarer as the lecherous union president, Prez, Steve Silver as the boss, Mr. Hasler, and Rick Rapp as Babe’s dad, Pop.

The factory floor workers (and chorus) are played by Maggie Malaney, Aalon Smith, Sierra Schnack, Matt Casey, Andrew MacNaughton, Thomas Ortiz, Shannon McEldowney, Shea Pender and Christian Seibert.

Director Linda Fortunato brings them all together in a rousing performance.

If you’re a dance lover, you won’t want to sneak out at intermission. The second act opens with a sultry dance to “Steam Heat” followed by an equally sultry “Hernando’s Hideaway” tango number, thanks to choreographer Christopher Chase Carter.

Costume designer Brenda Windstead, scenic designer Jack Magaw, lighting designer Guy Rhodes, sound designer David Kelepha Samba, props designer Wendy Huber and hair/wig designer Kevin Barthel, do a masterful job of evoking a mid-50s, working class factory and the people who toil there, right up to the final glimpse of the PJ fashion show.

Note: The 410 seats at the Theatre at the Center wrap around the stage. While the director does a good job of setting the actors so they are playing to the left and right, the center seats are definitely the place to be for this show.

DETAILS: “The Pajama Game” is at the Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Rd., Munster, IN, through Oct. 13. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, including one intermission. For tickets and more information call  (219) 836-3255, (800) 511-1532 or visit  TheatreAtTheCenter.

Cindy Richards

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

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