When Sir Richard Eyre was 14 years old his sister bought an album.
He says: ‘It was the first album that I ever heard and I listened to it over and over again and it has been etched in my memory ever since.’
That album was the original cast recording of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s Broadway musical The Pajama Game which ran for 1,063 performances from May 1954.
‘I have always been very fond of it and I have always had the desire to direct it,’ says Eyre who gets his wish at last when he recreates the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory at Chichester Festival Theatre from Monday until June 8.
Based on the novel Seven And A Half Cents, The Pajama Game is a love story set against labour troubles. Handsome Superintendent Sid Sorokin falls madly in love with firebrand union rep Babe and all goes well until the management refuses the workers a seven-and-a-half-cent rise, and the now less than happy couple find themselves at odds.
For Eyre, The Pajama Game ‘is certainly and absolutely in the top 10 of great American musicals. It has some very good tunes in it.
‘I think some people underrate it and maybe for a time it was unfashionable because it is quite a fifties sound, but the cycle is turning, tastes change and the fifties are back in fashion so I think the time is right to show people again what a wonderful musical it is.’
He is also thrilled to be doing it in the Minerva Theatre, where he directed Simon Gray and Hugh Whitemore’s The Last Cigarette in 2009.
‘It is an intimate space and it obliges you to do a production which relies on human resources rather than showing off with scenery, technical ostentation and over-decoration. I love flamboyance but I am interested in putting less clutter on the stage.’
In letting the musical sing for itself Eyre has chosen Hadley Fraser, whose theatre credits include Les Misérables in London and The Pirate Queen on Broadway, to play Sid.
Joanna Riding is Babe – her musical pedigree includes two Olivier Awards for Best Actress in a Musical for My Fair Lady and Carousel.
One thing he will not be doing is studying past productions or watching the Doris Day film. ‘I don’t pay much attention to what other people have done because it clouds your mind. I don’t need that extra baggage. I want my take on it to be as fresh as possible.’
Tickets cost £8.50 to £22.50 from CFT on (01243) 781312 or go to cft.org.uk.