Angry union workers clash with management over wages, and plan protests. No, it's not a scene out of Wisconsin, but rather the subject of the musical comedy "The Pajama Game," opening next weekend at St. Joseph High School in Ogden.
"It's an age-old battle and it is something that has been going on for a long time," said director Jennifer Perry "Fortunately, it all turns out well for these folks because love must always triumph in musical theater."
Perry, who is the director of the theater and dance department at the private Catholic school, said she selected the popular 1950s musical because it is a great fit with her current crop of students, which includes several strong actresses.
Leading that charge is student Taylor Nefcy, who is cast in the principal role as Catherine "Babe" Williams, the leader of the Union Grievance Committee at an Iowa pajama factory where a labor dispute erupts over a 7 1/2-cent raise.
Nefcy just won first place in musical theater at the Region 11 drama competition held last weekend at the school.
"She's a little rock star," Perry said, noting that all of her students who competed at the competition qualified to go on to state.
"That's the kind of quality student that we've got up here," Perry said.
In the story, Babe Williams is pitted against Sid Sorokin, the new factory superintendent on the other side of the labor dispute. Sid is played by Michael Wardrop, who Perry said has the vocal chops required for the distinctive crooning style of the period.
Sid's song "Hey There," in which he confides his growing feelings for Babe into a dictaphone, became a hit not only in the 1954 musical but also No. 1 on the charts. The song has been recorded by numerous artists, including Rosemary Clooney, Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Connick Jr., who gave the song new life when he starred as Sid in the 2006 Broadway revival of "The Pajama Game."
Although Babe supposedly rejects Sid in another familiar song, "I'm Not at All in Love," the dueling duo is obviously headed for musical theater nirvana.
"Babe has to fight for what she believes in and Sid has to fight for what he believes in," Perry said. "So they have a little conflict, and then in the end they are able to get the 7 1/2-cent raise and everybody is happy. It's very 1950s and nothing horrible is at stake."
Song and dance
That was also part of the appeal of doing this particular musical, Perry said, noting the last two musicals the school has performed, "The Wiz" and "Little Shop of Horrors," were more in the pop/rock genre.
"I wanted to do something that was a little bit more traditional and classical," Perry said. "It's something from an era that was really wholesome and bright and really upbeat and fun."
The production includes a live orchestra, colorful costumes and sets, and a cast of 25, which includes one teacher. The cast is having a great time with a seven-minute dance number, "Once a Year Day," which Perry described as "athletic, exhausting and a lot of fun." They are also enjoying a visit to the darker side -- albeit 1950s-style -- in "Hernando's Hideway."
"It's kind of this dive restaurant where they all sort of meet," Perry said. "The idea is that you can go there and not everybody knows who you are. So if you wanted to get away with something, that would be the place to go."
Perry said working in 2011 on a 1950s piece has been an interesting and fun challenge for the students.
"Nowadays, these kids are kind of like 'what you see is what you get,' " Perry pointed out, whereas in the 1950s she said there was more "masking and posturing going on." Perry said the performers, especially the girls, have had to learn to be more formal with their bodies and posture.
"Women stood a certain way and they walked a certain way," Perry said. "We've tried to do as many rehearsals as possible with the girls in skirts and heels so that they naturally would walk differently or behave differently."
Perry believes their hard work will pay off and audiences will be transported back to a seemingly simpler time. Those not familiar with the show will find something to fall in love with, while those who do know the show and music will become reacquainted with an old friend.
"There are a lot of songs they'll remember," Perry said. "It's so much fun. It's the '50s, so it's bright and colorful and it's just peppy."