They say life imitates art – or vice-versa.
In the case of the new production from Belmont secondary’s Prometheus Players, The Pajama Game, the latter is closer to the truth. Then again, last year’s teachers strike probably didn’t see any educators fall for administrators or government negotiators.
The budding relationship between feisty union rep at a pajama factory, Catherine “Babe” Williams, played by Hannah Eilertsen; and superintendent Sid Sorokin, played by Justin Lavoie, is one of the central themes of this musical classic, which opens next Wednesday at the Spectrum Community School theatre.
Director and Belmont theatre department head Melissa Young chuckled about the timing of the real-life labour disruption and her choice of this 1954 piece for the school’s spring musical.
Upon first considering it and listening to the songs, she wasn’t that thrilled, believing the material to be outdated. It wasn’t until she saw the show in London last summer that she saw the possibilities.
“I was blown away. There was something about it that connected with me,” she said, adding it wasn’t the union-management theme. “I’m a dancer and the dancing was phenomenal.”
Young has done her best to transfer that element of the show to the high school production, despite the comparatively lack of experience of the cast members.
“I think the big dance numbers are going to be fun. Ms. Young is an amazing choreographer,” said Eilertsen, among a group of Grade 12 students who have spent several years in the theatre program. “She treats us like professional actors. It’s a unique and realistic theatre experience.”
Given the era of the original story, some lines in the script have been changed to make them more appropriate – read politically correct – for today’s audiences.
Lavoie, who is also in his final year with the theatre program at Belmont, likes the mix of comedy with music and dance.
Asked what the toughest thing about this production has been for him, he hesitates, but only for a moment: “I have to kiss one of my best friends,” he said of a scene with Eilertsen, one of his pals since Grade 7. “It’s a little bit awkward.”
Fellow cast member Dylan Karlsson also enjoys the musical aspect of the show, noting that it’ll be amazing working with a live 20-piece orchestra.
“We’ve got those romantic numbers, but also the big dance numbers,” he said.
The Pajama Game differs from the previous two spring musicals he’s been involved in at Belmont. Where Fiddler on the Roof featured very emotional subject matter and music, and The Wizard of Oz was an all-out fun production, he said, this year’s show has rather adult themes that have prompted those involved to think about things like labour negotiations and the working world.
The Pajama Game is the last production to be rehearsed and initially mounted at the old Belmont. Young isn’t yet sure at which new high school she’ll be teaching drama classes. Regardless, she said, looking around a crowded wardrobe and set storage room, “I won’t miss the packing everything up from here.”
The four performances run at 7 p.m. April 22 and 23, and 2 and 7 p.m. on April 25 at 957 Burnside Rd. W. Tickets are $13.50 for adults, $11.50 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the school, 3067 Jacklin Rd., or reserved by calling 250-478-5501.