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Interview: Ashley Garlick of THE PAJAMA GAME at 42nd Street Moon Finally Gets to Take on the Classic Musical Comedy

Garlick stars as Babe in Moon's COVID-delayed production, running live in San Francisco June 2 to 19

Interview: Ashley Garlick of THE PAJAMA GAME at 42nd Street Moon Finally Gets to Take on the Classic Musical Comedy
Ashley Garlick as Babe (center) surrounded by Katherine Stein, Tiana Paulding, Nicole Tung & Tosca Maltzman
in 42nd Street Moon's production of The Pajama Game

San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon is back the business of doing what it does best. "Moon" is concluding its 2021-22 season with the company's long-awaited production of the Tony Award-winning "Best Musical" The Pajama Game, offering a contemporary take on a comedy classic, and celebrating the best of Broadway's Golden Age. Featuring one of the most delightful scores ever written for the musical theater, The Pajama Game is chock full of standards such as "Hey There," "Steam Heat," and "Hernando's Hideaway." The original Broadway production featured the choreographic debut of the iconic Bob Fosse and was the first producer credit for the legendary Hal Prince. Based on the novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell, The Pajama Game tells a timeless tale of romance set against a workplace drama between factory management and middle-class workers struggling to do more than just get by. Finding themselves on opposing sides in a labor dispute are worker-activist Babe Williams and newly-hired superintendent Sid Sorokin.

Ashley Garlick stars as Babe, the gutsy advocate for her fellow workers and fiercely independent woman who professes to be "not at all in love" with Sid. I spoke with her back in 2020 when the production was originally scheduled, and then again just last week when she was finally in the thick of rehearsals after having patiently waited over two years to play this gem of a role. Garlick is very well-known to Bay Area theatergoers, having played everything from Sally Bowles in Cabaret to Janet in The Rocky Horror Show and Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In addition, she is also quite an accomplished costume designer. We talked about what it was like to wait out the two-year delay for this production, how the creative team has updated the book to make the characters stronger, the role she has played that she most closely identified with, and a plum role she would still like to take on. The following has been condensed from two separate phone conversations and edited for clarity.

Thinking back to two years ago, what was your initial reaction when you found out Pajama Game wasn't going to happen as scheduled?

Well, I was pretty devastated. It was something that I was really looking forward to, for quite a while. But at the time I understood why we had to postpone it, and I'm glad that it ended up just being postponed and not a cancellation. I know so many shows ended up getting straight-up canceled. I'm very lucky that we kept just getting postponed, so it was always a date on the calendar in the near future, and now we're finally here!

During those two years, did you always know that if/when Pajama Game happened that you still had the role for sure?

I did, yes.

When you finally got to that first rehearsal, what did it feel like?

Omigosh, "first day of school" as we like to say in the theater world, but like with even more butterflies than that. You're nervous and wondering if everybody's gonna like you, or you're still right for the part, or if you even still know how to act or do anything onstage anymore. [laughs] So I was very, very nervous that first day, and even that first week when we're going through the dances and the scenes and just trying to see "Do I still know how to do any of this?" It's been so, so long and I'm so rusty. One thing that's been comforting is that I think a lot of us are going through it in the cast. We're all just trying to support and lift each other up, so we're not going through it alone.

I believe this version of Pajama Game has gotten some nips and tucks to update its sensibility a little?

Yeah, we removed some of the cringey bits, let's say. [laughs] The team has worked really hard together to create something that I think is posed much more for an audience of today. Being a musical from the 1950's, there are some things that might be problematic in today's age and what the team has done is sort of even the playing field, if you will, and give a much more interesting arc to the men and women in the show.

Can you give any specifics? Your character of Babe was never exactly your standard ingenue.

No, she wasn't. I mean, Babe has always jumped off the page to me as this very sort of strong-willed, tenacious kind of gal which is really exciting to play and I think they've updated it in such a way that she's even more strong-willed. Specifically, when Babe and Sid first meet, there was a line where he said "Whoa, this grievance committee sure is cute." And they've changed it to "Well, this grievance committee is kind of different." And she says, "Save it!" So right off the bat she's making her presence known and what she represents, what she stands for.

As much as Babe secretly longs for a romantic relationship, she seems to be perpetually single. What do you think that's about for her?

I think she is a gal that work comes first for her, and also at home she takes care of her dad and that's very important to her. So she hasn't, I think, partially had the time and also doesn't want to open herself up in that way. Like any of us, she doesn't want to risk getting hurt and making herself vulnerable.

And that vulnerability is really what her song "I'm Not at All in Love" is about.

Yes, but she totally is. It's totally that "love at first sight" sort of moment and the girls at the factory see that vulnerability coming through. "Oh, Babe, I saw you kind of blush a little bit there. What was that, huh?" And she's like "No, that was nothing. You didn't see anything... OK, he's kinda good looking, but I'm not falling for this guy."

I realize you haven't gotten this in front of an audience yet, but right now what is your own favorite part of the show?

I really love the sort of awkward, rom-com chemistry moments with Sid. I always find that to be my favorite thing to watch and my favorite thing to act as well. You've got these two very headstrong characters who are leaders, they're well-spoken, and then when they get in front of each other they just kind of stumble and bumble. It's really lovely and hopefully fun to watch, too.

Interview: Ashley Garlick of THE PAJAMA GAME at 42nd Street Moon Finally Gets to Take on the Classic Musical Comedy
Ben Jones as Sid Sorokin in 42nd Street Moon's production of The Pajama Game
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Have you ever worked with Ben Jones, your Sid Sorokin, before?

Not in person, but he's lovely and wonderful to work with. The only thing that we've done together was a streaming thing for Moon where they were having us do like a little a cabaret. We did "There Once Was a Man" for that, but we had never met. So I only just met Ben in person actually last week. It's just so funny to have been working with this person from a distance and then finally actually meeting them in person.

You are also quite an accomplished costume designer, so you have this kind of dual career going on. How did you get started doing costume design?

It started really in high school. My mom got me interested in making clothes from patterns, for homecoming and prom, and then I started making my own costumes for the shows that I was cast in, in high school. Then that followed me to college where I worked in a costume shop for about four years and really developed a love of wanting to dress other people and costume them in the best way possible. It definitely pushed my creativity because the School of the Arts at Chico State where I went was doing a lot of different kinds of shows, whether it be contemporary/modern, period shows, Shakespeare, a musical fairy tale, whatever, just all sorts of things were coming into that shop that we were working on.

Do you have a favorite period to design for?

I sure do! I would say my sweet spot really is the 1930's, but I will go anywhere from 30's to 70's. That whole period, I enjoy every one of those decades to play with. I love the old Hollywood style. I think it's absolutely gorgeous in terms of style for women. The dress shapes that they were creating for women back then are so flattering - the bias-cut dress in velvet or satin is to die for! I can't get enough of it.

Looking back at some of the roles you've played over the past several years, you've got quite a range going there. So - between Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch," Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Show, Sally Bowles in Cabaret and now Babe in The Pajama Game, which one is closest to who you really are offstage?

Interview: Ashley Garlick of THE PAJAMA GAME at 42nd Street Moon Finally Gets to Take on the Classic Musical Comedy
Actor Ashley Garlick

Um, that's hard to say. I think Babe is actually pretty close in a lot of ways, but I wouldn't discount Yitzhak, either. With Yitzhak, I found a lot that felt very much me in a lot of ways. Specifically, the moment when Yitzhak finally gets to come forward and sing "The Long Grift." You know, Yitzhak has been in the background for like ¾ of the show at that point, so the moment you get to come forward and sing that song and the audience cheers for you as that character, it's like "Yeah you did that! You have every right as a performer to lead this show." That felt very real to me. Yitzhak gets a little bit choked up or emotional in that moment and I always felt that from the audience when they would applaud and cheer for Yitzhak. Because I've been there certainly where I've wanted to step forward, come out and lead something, but you know you're doing an ensemble track and there's nothing wrong with that. But it felt very personal, that moment, and it was really special.

I never thought of it from the angle of the person performing the role of Yitzhak. The first ¾ of the show Yitzhak is so subservient and so in the background, and he really has to be for the show to work. But, the moment when he steps out and really goes for it, that's gotta work, too.

Yeah, they have to watch you that whole time, just really takin' it from Hedwig, constantly being scolded, "You can't do this. You can't do that. Hold this. Do that." And then it's like "Oh, wow, Yitzak really is a performer in his own right!"

Finally, I have a question I always love to ask Moonies, just as sort of one musical theater nerd to another. Do you have any dream roles you'd really love to play in the coming years?

Yeah, actually. One of my favorite shows, and one that really kept me involved in musical theater and really got me interested in like old musical theater, was Bells Are Ringing. I remember my friend put a bunch of musicals on my iPod when I was in college as an undergrad, and I was at a point where like I didn't know who I was, I didn't know what sort of roles I should play, and just feeling really confused about should I really be doing this major. I was just flipping through those musicals and I hit Bells Are Ringing and I'm listening to it, and I'm like "Omigosh, that's what I want to do!" I want to know more about this show, I want to know more about old shows." It was the Faith Prince recording and I just fell in love with it, so it's always been something that would really go full circle for me if I ever got to play that part. I love that show.

Yeah, and Bells has such a great score! I would love to see Moon do that show.

Oh, yeah. Fingers crossed!

(all photos courtesy of 42nd Street Moon)

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The Pajama Game performs live June 2- 19, 2022 at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco, CA 94111. For tickets or additional information, visit 42ndstmoon.org/the-pajama-game or call the box office at (415) 255-8207



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