Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The first show of the 2006-2007 Mainstage Series at the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) is the well-known musical The Pajama Game. Though the show itself isn't crafted in a manner that would pass muster if it premiered today, CCM's top-rate faculty and students provide a fun, sensual and professional production.
The Pajama Game takes place in 1954 (the year the show premiered) and follows the employees of the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory. The new superintendent, Sid, falls for the head of the union grievance committee, Babe. Their romance is threatened when the two take opposing sides over a dispute for a seven and a half cent raise. Another half dozen supporting characters provide comic relief, as well as romantic and work related entanglements for the pair. The show won three 1954 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and the revival of the piece last year starring Harry Connick, Jr., won the 2006 Tony for Best Revival.
The book for the show was written by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, based on Bissell's novel 7 ½ Cents. It is sufficiently well constructed and has all of the elements of a good story romance, conflict, social relevance, comedy. But, it is also very predictable and extremely unfocused, devoting far too much time (even late into act two) on supporting characters and relationships. The score by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler is certainly one that boasts a number of musical theater standards and many catchy tunes, such as "Hey There," "Steam Heat," and "Hernando's Hideaway." However, there are also many reprises, and lots of dance music, which add to the feeling of the show being padded.
Despite the show being old-fashioned by today's standards, CCM's production is strong in all areas. The enormous cast is led by Preston Truman Boyd as Sid Sorokin, and Stephanie Gibson as Babe Williams. Mr. Boyd possesses the right level of intensity for the role, and is an impressive vocalist. Ms. Gibson is sufficiently spunky and confident, sings well, and has great stage presence. Of the supporting players, Dana Domenick (as the fiery Gladys) and Sean Montgomery (Hines) stand out, but all are worthy of praise. The same can be said for the large ensemble, each of whom shows themselves to be triple threat performers.
Director Aubrey Berg wisely fills the stage with constant action, and his emphasis on the sexual elements of the show works well. Diane Lala is the real star of the show, though, supplying splendid choreography throughout. The Pajama Game is an exceptionally dance heavy show, and Ms. Lala's work is visually captivating and fun. Roger Grodsky provides spirited musical direction for the remarkable 33-piece orchestra.
Thomas C. Umfrid's set design of the factory in brick and steel, as well as the other venues, is one of the best seen at CCM in a long time. There are many small details to appreciate, and the set authentically captures the period. The costumes by Reba Senske certainly recall the 1950s in style, and provide a nice color palate in comparison to the darker hues of the factory setting.
The Pajama Game is all about the music and the dance. If you are looking for an engaging, thought provoking show, this isn't it. If you want to recall the good old days and tap your feet along to some classic songs, grab a seat if you can find one. CCM is up to their normal stellar level of talent both on and off the stage in giving this show a worthwhile production. The musical continues at CCM from through November 19, 2006.-- Scott Cain