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Review: RWHS spring musical big on laughs, heart

A labor dispute at a garment factory serves as the backdrop for Red Wing High School’s rendition of “The Pajama Game,” but this musical-comedy is all about love.

Based on the novel “7 ½ Cents” by American author Richard Bissell, the story is about a group of 1950s pajama factory workers in a small Iowa town. The local union wants a modest raise to match nearby industries, but the profit-minded upper management is having none of it.

Enter Sid Sorokin (Franz Harris), a recently hired plant superintendent who vows not to let his new gig get the best of him. After an altercation with one of the employees, he is visited by Babe Williams (Kelsey Lappegaard), a spunky member of the union grievance committee.

Sid and Babe quickly fall for each other, but the star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the bourgeois battle line soon find their work allegiances at odds with their budding relationship.

The roughly two-and-a-half-hour performance is highly ambitious, complete with multiple scene changes, a cast of two-dozen players and even some surprising and imaginative special effects.

That the production flows so well in light of its complexity is a success in its own right, but the highpoints are the musical numbers performed with an accompanying live orchestra.

Among the standouts is the singing and tap dance number “I'll Never Be Jealous Again” featuring factory timekeeper Hines (Sam Ketcham) and secretary Mabel (Emily Dech). The overly protective Hines suspects — with good reason — that his girlfriend Gladys (Elle Mark) is cheating on him, and Mabel does her best to ease his mind with hilarious results.

On the more heartfelt side is the terrific duet “There Once Was a Man,” in which Sid and Babe confess their love. Harris’ booming vocals meld touchingly with Lappegaard’s as the pair shares a genuine moment of tenderness.

The supporting cast is too large to single out individually, but the quirky bunch provides plenty of memorable bits and strong vocals during the larger musical pieces.

Of note in this production is the attention paid to the musicians, who get some stage time of their own by way of a video feed projected onto the stage during an opening tune. It’s a nice reminder of the talent behind the scenes that too often goes unnoticed.

Thursday night’s opening performance received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Sheldon Theatre crowd. Marred only by the occasional microphone snafu, this charming play strikes a perfect balance between comedy and heart.

If you go ...

What: “The Pajama Game”

Where: The Sheldon Theatre

When: 7 p.m. tonight, 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $22.50 for adults, $14.50 for students

More info: 

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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