Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 23, 2010
So, how do you like your summer musicals: current, corny, romantic, nostalgic or self-indulgent? There’s something for everyone on local stages – indoors and out, with or without intrusive aircraft.
In the latter category, there’s Starlight Theatre’s production of “The Pajama Game,” the 1954 romantic comedy about labor and management at the Sleep- Tite Pajama Factory in Cedar Rapids , Iowa . Against the backdrop of a threatened strike, the new plant superintendent falls for a pretty union activist. What with the current glut of layoffs and unfair business practices, the show should feel remarkably relevant. But the music is played at such a pokey pace that the whole affair feels hokey and decidedly retro. There are two standout performances, though, from SDSU musical theater alumni Courtney Corey and Joe joyce . The production features plenty of dancing, but there should be less. I never thought I’d say that about a musical, but I can extend the opinion to “ Oklahoma ” at Moonlight Stage Productions.
The dancers are far better in this corn-fed chestnut, but the choreography is variable and repeatedly overstays its welcome. The comedy ratio is high, thanks to Bets Malone as flirtatious Ado Annie and Jason Maddy as the slippery Persian peddler, Ali Hakim. At the center of the piece, the falsely reluctant romantics, Laurey and Curly, represent the cowmen and the farmers, duking it out in the pre-state Western territory at the turn of the last century.
These two classic musicals have a passel of great songs, including “Pajama Game’s” “Hey There” and “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin ’” and “People Will say We’re in Love” from “Oklahoma.” Both are very well sung, though they’re shows of the most traditional kind.
But if you like your tuners more snarky, head on over to Diversionary Theatre for [title of show], so post-modern it doesn’t even have a bona fide title. Written in 2004 by two New York theater geeks, it’s about two New York theater geeks writing a show about writing a show – about two New York theater geeks. The guys and their gal-pals even played themselves, on and Off Broadway. Self-referential enough for ya ? There are winks, nods and sly allusions to a zillion prior musicals, famous and obscure, which will have theater queens drooling in the aisles. But while the conceit is a little slow to warm up to – and a little precious and self-congratulatory once you do – the cast of four is funny, talented, energetic , engaging and, under the direction of James Vasquez , damn near irresistible.
All right, so it’s empty calories, but go ahead and stuff yourself on the summer’s theatrical equivalent of cotton candy. Stale or fresh, these shows are weightless and fluffy. But isn’t that what summer musicals are all about?
“The Pajama Game” plays through August 1 at Starlight Theatre in Balboa Park .
“ Oklahoma ” runs through July 31, at Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista .
[ title of show] continues through August 8 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights .
©2010 PAT LAUNER