Chichester have done it again, breathing new life into an old, largely forgotten American musical. As the major RENEW project turns Chichester’s main Festival Theatre into a building site while undergoing renovation, The Pajama Game, a romantic musical comedy from the 1950s, finds a perfect home in the smaller Minerva Theatre next door. Who would have thought that this musical, dealing with the workers of a pajama factory’s attempt to have a seven-and-a-half cent rise, leading to a strike, amidst the blossoming of romance between the new factory superintendant and the union rep who are on conflicting sides, could work and appeal to modern audiences?

The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly, director Richard Eyre has brought out both the drama and the musicality of the piece, casting good actors who bring it to life. Joanna Riding, as Babe Williams, leader of the Union Grievance Committee, takes her character on a journey, from a feisty lady, reluctant to admit her true feelings in ‘I’m Not At All In Love’, through her determination to do right by her fellow workers even at the loss of her personal happiness, to eventual joy. Hadley Fraser (as Sid Sorokin the Superintendant) is a leading man with presence to match his suave good looks, and gets to sing the show’s most well-known number, the reflective ‘Hey There’. The Pajama Game is also a piece that allows for a number of supporting characters to shine. Peter Polycarpou’s Hines, the factory timekeeper, is a man obsessed with ‘time and motion’ – interspersed with a few knife throwing antics along the way! – while Claire Machin’s Mabel (Sid’s secretary) has clearly been around the block and is witty and worldly wise. A hilarious number ‘I’ll Never Be Jealous Again’, combines the comic timing of both actors as Mabel teaches Hines not to be jealous of his younger girlfriend Gladys’ behaviour.

Secondly, Stephen Mear (whose choreography breathed new life into Chichester’s productions of How to Succeed in Business without really trying, The Music Man and She Loves Me), once more creates some truly stunning dance sequences, that contain both classical elements of the past while bringing the dance completely up to date in its storytelling. From the rousing opening number, ‘Racing With The Clock’, where the stage is filled with characters of all ages, shapes and sizes, to the tongue-in-cheek title number at the end, with all the cast dressed in pajamas, Mear never lets the pace slip, injecting the choreography with a real sense of fun and panache. The second act opener ‘Steam Heat’ featuring Alexis Owen-Hobbs sassy, young blonde Gladys – complete with smoke effects! – is another highlight.

Lastly, the musical quality of the show is enriched by an out-of-sight band under the direction of Gareth Valentine, bringing out its jazzy upbeat style. The Pajama Game is a musical packed full of numbers (by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross) that fit perfectly in the show, but are nowadays rarely heard outside of it – ‘There Once Was A Man’, ‘Once-a-year Day’ (which literally stops the first half) and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ just a few of them. This firecracker of an old show finds its perfect home in the Minerva, where the shape of the space sees the cast entering from all directions on Tim Hadley’s well devised set. With Barnum on the way this summer in a circus tent in the theatre’s grounds, and the prospect of a newly improved main theatre for next season, which largely forgotten gem will Chichester dig up next?