Northern Virginia native Gabi Stapula used to see shows at Arena Stage, and dreamed of one day performing professionally in the building. She even attended the theater’s summer academy for younger actors while in high school.
“I knew they brought in really high caliber actors, and that it was a place I wanted to work one day when I got enough training,” she says.
Stapula is now getting that chance, playing Mae in the Tony Award-winning musical The Pajama Game, running from October 27 to December 24 on Arena’s Fichandler Stage.
“I had done The Pajama Game in college, and it’s a show that is near and dear to my heart because it is just so fun,” Stapula says. “And I knew that Parker Esse, the show’s choreographer, would bring a new spin to all the dances. And he is re-choreographing all of these traditional numbers you are used to seeing, and I was so pumped to hear that.”
Stapula had first met Esse at Arena while at the summer academy, but at the time, she was mainly a ballet dancer.
“He was showing me the ins and outs of what musical theatre is, and meeting him changed my trajectory of what I wanted to do. I was going to go into more of the ballet world, but he completely upturned me – and now I’m doing musical theatre.”
Esse actually gave Stapula her first professional job at the Merry-Go-Around Playhouse in upstate New York, and she performed there in shows such as Crazy For You, West Side Story and Saturday Night Fever. Although she’s carved out a nice career for herself in New York, The Pajama Game is Stapula’s first professional role in the DC area.
“I mainly did stuff at my dance studio when I was growing up here, so this will be my first time,” she says.
And it would probably be easier to list the shows when there won’t be a big crowd of friends and family attending, as folks from her high school, dance studio and hometown are ready to flood the theater.
“Those are the people who shaped the way I am, and they finally get the chance to see post-college Gabi and everything that they worked toward with me come to fruition. It means a lot that they are coming out for support.”
The first time she performed in Pajama Game, she played Gladys, but this time she’s tackling the role of Mae, a feisty member of the factory’s union grievance committee who supports the union president perhaps a bit too much.
“What I like about Mae is that she’s so unapologetic,” Stapula says. “She doesn’t care what other people think and she’s such a strong woman. You don’t get to play those characters usually in such an old-book musical. She’s also so goofy, and I get to see the world of this musical through a different eye.”
With a book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the story follows Sid Sorokin and Babe Williams in a battle-of-the-sexes romance that soars with seductive dance numbers like “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Tim Rogan and Britney Coleman play Sid and Babe, respectively.
“I just watched Tim and Britney do one of their love numbers in rehearsal, and their chemistry is off the charts,” Stapula says. “This is a big musical with a lot of dance numbers, and I think audiences are going to love it.”
Directed by Shakespeare Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul in his Arena Stage debut, The Pajama Game also stars Broadway legend Donna McKechnie (Tony winner for A Chorus Line), as well as Broadway veterans Nancy Anderson, Eddie Korbich and Blakely Slaybaugh.
“Just being there with Donna McKechnie is the coolest thing ever,” Stapula says. “Her aura in the room is amazing. The talent that they’ve brought in for this cast is spectacular.”
With her dream of working at Arena about to be realized, Satpula is considering sticking around the area and seeing what opportunities come.
“I would love to do more work in DC. I have fallen in love with what DC has to offer.”
The Pajama Game runs from October 27 to December 24 at Arena Stage. Click here for more information.
Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org