By Nicole Fitzgerald
What: The Pajama Game musical
When: May 4-6
Where: MY Millennium Place
“We figured it out,” sings the cast of the Whistler Secondary School Drama Club’s latest song and dance, the musical Pajama Game that shows May 4 to 6 at MY Millennium Place.
The phrase from the song 7 1/2 Cents sung by about 35 talented triple threats is poignant not only to the plot of the multiple-Tony-Award-winning show, but also to the production process of mounting a musical entirely run by the students themselves.
“It is very student led,” said Janet Hamer, a co-producer offering support to the students. “Students have complete ownership of the show, so they work hard to make sure it’s the best, because it’s their own… We are here just in a support role. The kids know the show is theirs. I remember last year one of the students said it was the best show they had ever been in. I asked why? And she said, ‘Because it’s ours.’”
This is the fifth season of the club’s student-led productions. Past successes included Bye Bye Birdie, Footloose, Anything Goes and Singing in the Rain. As the years go by, participants become more independent of the small team of adults overseeing the process — including Hamer, Alison Hunter, Shirley Balzarini and Rebecca Ford.
Sitting in on one of the dress rehearsals at MY Millennium Place last week, the leadership and theatre prowess of director Alannah Balzarini was evident. I was amazed by her efficiency at moving more than 35 performers around the stage, the attention they gave her and the results of her efforts — a readiness that elevates the production beyond a typical school show, a cast who really looked like they were enjoying the creative process and a program that is empowering participants with confidence as well as leadership and theatre skills.
“It’s stressful and busy at times, (but) I’ve had so much fun. It’s my little baby,” said Balzarini on a lunch break at school. “I put scenes together and they are still rough, but then when I got to see it on the stage, I thought ‘Wow, I put on a show. It’s an actual show, not random scenes and dances. It looks really good.’”
The Grade 12 student has participated in the program since its inception, however always in a chorus role.
“There are kids (in this show) from five years ago who didn’t know upstage from downstage,” said Hamer, who sat on the sidelines while Balzarini and assistant director Holly Heatherington ran the rehearsal. “They are running it now. That’s simply because of the wonderful direction they’ve received over the last four years.”
More than 40 students are involved on stage and backstage for this year’s production — no small feat when you consider the school population is only 300.
Students are recognizing the joy and skill building assets of the program and finally the school is as well. For the first time, the program is being acknowledged as something more than just an extra curricular activity. Students now receive course credits for the invaluable experience that not only builds creative talents, but interpersonal, communication and organizational skills.
“I’ve had to be so organized, having everything ready for rehearsals and I’ve learned how to manage 35 kids at once,” Balzarini said. “You are standing there and of course, like I would be in any class, they are talking with friends.”
Chatter went out the backstage door once students were rehearsing at MY Place theatre, however. With 22 songs to choreograph and sing alone, students were hard at work at the Pajama Game.
The musical is about labour troubles in a pajama factory. A strike is imminent at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory. The union seeks a seven and a half cents an hour raise. Sid and Babe sit on opposite sides of the table yet a romance is born from the conflict. Misunderstandings, corruption, hilarity and knife throwing follow along with famous musical numbers such as Steam Heat, Hernando’s Hideaway and A New Town is a Blue Town.
The original Broadway production opened in May 1954, closing two years later with 1,063 performances and three Tony Awards. The musical was revived with Harry Connick Jr. starring as Sid in 2006, leading to more Tony Award wins.
“It’s got great songs and lots of humour,” Balzarini said.
For tickets, contact 604-935-8410 or ticketmaster.ca.