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The Only ‘Game’ in Town

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Maestro Dominique Royem
Maestro Dominique Royem

Dominique Royem conducts ‘The Pajama Game.’
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Shannon Langman

Before Norma Rae—Sally Field’s Oscar-winning portrait of a gritty union organizer—there was Babe Williams, leader of the union grievance committee at Sleep Tite Pajama Factory, where workers demand a seven-and-a-half cents raise  in the 1954 Broadway musical The Pajama Game.

Doris Day played the spitfire working girl in the 1957 movie version, along with most of the original cast, including Carol Haney in her Tony Award-winning performance as Gladys Hotchkiss. It was Haney who broke her ankle during the Broadway run, allowing unknown understudy Shirley MacLaine to step in, only to be discovered by Hollywood producer/director Hal B. Wallis.

Beth Lazarou of Montrose plays Babe in Bayou City Concert Musicals’ production of The Pajama Game. Each year, says BCCM artistic director Paul Hope, the group produces an unabridged concert staging of an under-performed musical that originated on Broadway from the 1940s to the 1980s.

In those years, women have come a long way, baby; in fact, the conductor of The Pajama Game’s orchestra of twenty-two professional musicians is another female Montrose resident, maestro Dominique Royem. (Women haven’t come so far in the world of orchestral and symphonic music, with out conductor Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a rarity among women in major leadership positions. Even Alsop, whose partner is horn player Kristin Jurkscheit, braved controversy when she spoke publicly about their family while she was conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.)

Royem was pursuing a music performance degree at Houston Baptist University (HBU) when she was discovered by Dr. Robert Linder, who was music director for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston for forty years, as well as a conductor at HBU, the Houston Civic Symphony, and Theatre Under the Stars.

After Linder saw Royem conduct a choral orchestra as part of her studies at HBU, he told her, “You’re going to be doing this professionally,” she recalls. Although few women ascend to the leadership position of a conductor, Linder directed Royem to the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, where she earned a 2010 doctorate of musical arts in orchestral conducting.

“Dr. Linder saw something in me,” says Royem, who is currently a freelance conductor who is associate music director for Houston Grand Opera’s Opera to Go! production that tours elementary and middle schools throughout Texas. In addition, she’s the assistant conductor for the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra and a frequent lecturer.

Linder suggested her to Hope, and Royem conducted the 2006 BCCM production of Fiorello! in 2006. Thus began a yearly collaboration with Hope and choreographer Krissy Richmond. “It’s been wonderful working with Paul and Krissy,” says Royem, who appears onstage with the orchestra because BCCM’s production is a concert musical.

When Royem raises the baton on The Pajama Game, she will also be conducting music again for Lazarou and Cole Ryden, who played the young lovers, Sharon McLonergan and Woody Mahoney, in BCCM’s successful Finian’s Rainbow in 2011. The cast also features Jon Egging, Jennifer Gilbert, Gerald Guidry, and Susan Shofner.

In The Pajama Game, complications arise when Babe falls in love with Sid Sorokin, the handsome new factory superintendent, a role originated by John Raitt. The show, based on the novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell with a score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, won best musical at the 1955 Tony Awards and best revival of a musical when Harry Connick Jr. and Kelli O’Hara played the leads on Broadway in 2006. Both productions won best choreography, with ample applause for the dancing to “Once a Year Day,” “Steam Heat,” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

What: The Pajama Game
When: September 12–15
Where: Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin
Info: tickets (starting at $25) are available online at bayoucityconcertmusicals.org or by phone at 713/465-6484.

Donalevan Maines also writes about Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical in this issue of OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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