Fresh from their triple Olivier wins for Sweeney Todd and with Singin’ in the Rain winding down its West End run before beginning a national tour, Chichester continues to corner the market in re-visiting Broadway stage and film classics. With its main house currently standing forlornly behind hoardings and with what looks like a gash in its side as it undergoes its £22m Renew project, the summer season begins in the Minerva with a new production of Adler and Ross’s 1954 show The Pajama Game that seems to want to burst out of the confines of the studio space it is inhabiting and dance across the street.
Hadley Fraser and Joanna Riding in The Pajama Game at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester Photo: Tristram Kenton
Studio productions of big musicals can refocus them sharply, but this one sometimes seems over-busy on this tight stage, though it is resourcefully designed by Tim Hatley to go from factory floor to executive offices, a company away-day party and even a louche club. And Stephen Mears offers characteristic choreographic invention that tips a hat (in every sense) to original Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse and has a sensational Steam Heat with columns of steam gushing out of the floor, and the equally steamy Alexis Owen-Hobbs dancing up a storm accompanied by two appropriately angular male dancers.
But a musical with a social conscience that announces itself as being about capital and labour is also a portrait of the benefits of union activism and senior executive corruption, so this is a show that is actually about something. There’s also a heart-tugging romance between a factory activist and middle executive, terrifically played respectively by Joanna Riding and Hadley Fraser.
There are fantastic numbers like Hey There and A New Town is a Blue Town (both feelingly sung by Fraser, who is a treat in and out of pajamas), and a hilarious comic turn from the wonderful Peter Polycarpou that virtually steals the show as a violently jealous suitor to Owen-Hobbs’ Gladys. This is also Richard Eyre’s best musical production since Guys and Dolls, which he staged at the National in 1982 - a show that it feels inspired by, though can’t always match.