New Castle News

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March 13, 2013

Photos, Story, Cast List: Wilmington to present ‘The Pajama Game’

NEW CASTLE — When it came time for Brenda Hickman to select Wilmington High’s spring musical, her choice was an easy one.

“When I did musical theater in college, I was cast in the ‘Pajama Game’ and just loved it everything about it — the story, the soundtrack, the costumes, all of it,” she said. “I felt pretty certain that the kids would enjoy it as much as I did.”

Several exhausting months later, Hickman has come to realize that her undertaking perhaps was a bigger one than she expected.

With 50 cast members and some elaborate scenery and costumes relying on her expertise to pull it all together, Hickman will be on the edge of her own seat when the curtain rises for the first time at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

“What a difference it is to be cast in a number and actually direct it,” she said with a laugh. “I never really appreciated all that my directors did to put it all together. I sure do now.”

The “Pajama Game” is based on the novel “7 1/2 Cents” by Richard Bissell. The story deals with labor troubles in an Iowa pajama factory, where workers’ demands for a 7 1/2-cent raise are going unheeded. In the midst of this ordeal, love blossoms between Catherine “Babe” Williams, the head of the union grievance committee, and Sid Sorokin, the new factory superintendent.

The original Broadway production opened on May 13, 1954, and ran for 1,063 performances. It was revived in 1973, and again in 2006. The original production won a Tony Award for Best Musical, and the 2006 Broadway revival won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.

Hickman is directing her second play at Wilmington. She is a graduate of the school, but moved to Minnesota for 12 years after completing her undergraduate studies at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. Although she does not teach at the school, she returned to assist with the “Sound of Music” two years ago, before taking over the production of “Annie” last year.

“The kids have really gotten into this production,” she said. “And thank goodness that my family has been there for me, my mom has helped with the sewing and my dad chipped in on the set design. When I said I needed a knife board for one of the scenes — because where would you really get something like that — he built one for me.”

She also has had benefit of some talented actors, such as her four leads: junior Josh Strobel, who plays Sid; senior Katy Styer, who plays Babe; senior Rebeccah Swerdlow, who plays Gladys; and senior Verna Curfman, who plays Mabel, all of whom have been cast in musicals and plays at Wilmington in the past and all of whom bring strong voices to the table.

“Quite a few of my kids have either had voice lessons or been in chorus or chamber choir, so we had some great choices,” she said. “So many of them stood out, it was a little tough to choose.”

One of those voices comes from Strobel, who set his sights on the male lead prior to tryouts in late-November.

“I did some research on the story before I auditioned so I could decide which character I would like to play and Sid really caught my eye,” he said. “I really liked the story from the minute I read it.

“I have a lot of lines, but I am very good at memorization, so that has helped a lot.”

Strobel has had to put his love for martial arts and classic rock — ”Queen is my favorite,” he said — on the back burner to accommodate the sometimes-lengthy practices, which have run Monday through Saturday most weeks since January.

On Nov. 20, just as he was preparing for his tryout for the musical, Strobel enlisted in the Army Reserves. He plans to make a career of the military, with hopes of joining Special Forces Delta Airborne when he is finished with school.

Styer also is a veteran of spring musicals, with the role of “Babe” her biggest to date. She said she has learned to multi-task with schoolwork, other activities and the musical.

“I have to discipline myself to wake up early or go to bed late sometimes just to get my homework done, but it’s worth it,” she said. “This has been hard work, but so much fun.”

Styer plans to go into the field of pediatrics and hopes to begin her schooling at Grove City College.

“I want to go into pre-med and Grove City is my first step,” she said. “My letter is supposed to come March 15 (Friday) letting me know if I got in, but I won’t open it until after the curtain closes on the musical. After that, I will start concentrating on life after high school.”

Swerdlow, who plans to pursue a degree in museum studies following her high school graduation, has been in both musicals and plays since middle school and also is a member of the girls tennis team.

“Some days it’s a lot to fit everything in,” she admitted, “but I keep my books backstage and when we have a break, I make sure I get some studying done.

“I love playing Gladys,” Swerdlow added of the attractive, flirty secretary who dates factory timekeeper Vernon Hines and is pursued by Prez, the head of the union who is known as a major skirt-chaser. “This has been such a great cast to work with. It will be wonderful to see the result of our hard work in a few days, but it will break my heart at the same time because it’s all over for me.”

Curfman, who also plans on going into pre-med, said she, too, has enjoyed her role, playing town gossip Mabel, the mother hen of the factory and Sid’s secretary.

“Mabel is such a fun character, I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said. “It’s a huge commitment, but it has been so worth it.”

For Hickman, the work will not end until the set is torn down after the curtain closes for the final time. In the meantime, she keeps her “to-do” list scrawled on her hand in blue ink.

“If I stop to grab a notebook when I think of something important, I’ll get distracted and forget what I needed to do,” she said, adding with a chuckle, “this way, I know I will take care of whatever needs done before I can wash my hand or take a shower.”

Hickman said she is anxiously awaiting the reaction to this week’s performances.

“The kids have worked really hard,” she said. “I really think people are going to like what they see.”

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