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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Mixed Blood Theatre The Pajama Game

The Pajama Game
Jorge E. Maldonado and Tiffany Ellen Solano
Why, exactly, is one of the Twin Cities' longstanding cutting-edge theaters tackling this piece of seeming fluff from the 1950s? The answer comes in the approach. In the hands of director Mark Valdez, it takes on new dimensions, as the show is recast with Hispanic actors as the workers in the Sleep-Tite Pajama Company. And this goes beyond casting. The show itself is bilingual, with much of it spoken in Spanish, while the music and dances have been given fresh fire with Latin tinges.

It's an approach that, despite some clunky moments, works throughout the production. It helps that the two leads Jorge E. Maldonado as supervisor Sid and Tiffany Ellen Solano as worker Babe have chemistry to spare. Solano is especially good in her role, remaining tough throughout, always believable that she would abandon her love of Sid if it got in the way of the plant workers and their much-needed 7-and-a-half cent per-hour raise.

Several other performances are also strong, including Raul Ramos' rock-steady Prez, Molly Sue McDonald's fun Mabel and J.C. Cutler as the geeky Hines, who seems to be channeling Dwight from The Office throughout the show.

As impressive as the cast is, the show wouldn't go far without music and dances to fit the new culture. Music director Andrew Cooke and choreographers Megan McClellan and Brian Sostek do a fabulous job of layering a new culture onto the songs of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. In their hands, "There Once Was a Man" turns into a ranchera and "Steam Heat" into an incredibly hot salsa.

At times, the approach does lead to some confused arrangements, where the words and music don't quite fit the new approach. Also, underneath all of this still lies an early 1950s musical, with a plot that often staggers along between the far more famous songs. Patrons should also be warned that sightlines at the Sabathani Auditorium (a few miles from Mixed Blood's usual home on the West Bank) are difficult due to the flat pitch in the seating. So it is best to try and avoid having anyone taller than yourself directly in front.

These are minor quibbles, however. Mixed Blood has taken a show that long ago passed out of the public's mind and shown how it can still belong to the modern-day world. Toss in a great cast, excellent staging and some time-tested music, and you have a night of rare theatrical pleasure.

The Pajama Game runs through March 24 at the Sabathani Auditorium, 310 E. 38th St., Minneapolis. For tickets and more information, call 612-338-6131.


- Ed Huyck



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