The Pajama Game is deeply rooted in the 1950s. As witnessed last night, the show can still be enjoyed in the year 2000, assuming you are willing to forgive a few non-PC details. The show plays like a '50s sitcom, a boy meets girl story with the required twist being that he is management, she is union, and there is a wage dispute at hand.
It is easy to become immersed in the era of The Pajama Game with the vision created by Broadway and regional set designer Michael Anania's exciting scenic designs (they appear to be the same sets as used in the 1988 New York State Theatre revival). The multitude of sets present authentic '50s pieces (from kitchen appliances and office furniture right down to the Scotch plaid coolers in the picnic scene) surrounded by very colorful backdrops. Costumes by Dodger and lighting by Jeff Davis are also superb and complete the atmosphere of a dreamlike 1954.
Equal to the mentioned design features is the cast. Robert Cuccioli, in the lead part of superintendent Sid Sorokin, probably drew more than a few fans from his Tony Award nominated role in Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde and in the recently acclaimed Off-Broadway & New Jersey Shakespeare Festival productions of Enter the Guardsman. With his J & H locks clipped short, Cuccioli looks a lot like a pre-gray Victor Mature, with the perfect look for the newest employee of the Sleep-Tite pajama company who garners stares and whistles from the factory's female workers. Cuccioli handles all of the vocal requirements with with ease - from the classic "Hey There", in a duet with his own voice on a tape recorder, to the stunning finale "There Once Was a Man," in which both he and his co-star Beth Leavel (Babe Williams) practically bring the house down. Cuccioli's Sid is warm and likeable and anyone who doubts the versatility of this actor should see him in this light, fun show.
Leavel has the singing chops to match Cuccioli, illustrated best in the previously mentioned "There Once Was a Man" - not too often do you hear a performance in regional theatre that deserves recording, but this song does, even though it is misplaced as a finale. Leavel's portrayal of the early feminist union grievance committee leader occasionally evokes Lucille Ball, and she is almost totally disguised by an unfortunate wig, but she does a good job with the opportunities provided to the character of Babe.
Supporting cast members Georgia Engel (Mabel), Jane Lanier (Gladys), and Ray DeMattis (Hines) are fun and get a lot of laughs. Engel and DeMattis sparkle in their duet "I'll Never Be Jealous Again." Lanier (recently a standout in Fosse on Broadway) doesn't really get a chance to show off her extraordinary dancing talents, even in the impressive-but-it-could-have-been-so-much-better "Steam Heat," but glimpses of her abilities are there. She also handles the comedic demands of the role extremely well.
The minor storyline of the lecherous Prez (portrayed by Jeff Howell) and his continued man-handling of all of the female workers is one that doesn't sit well; even though it was a popular plotline in '50s stage shows and movies, it's not really funny anymore.
The Pajama Game starts a run of three one-week productions for Pittsburgh's Civic Light Opera (with Buddy, the Buddy Holly Story and Anything Goes). There must not be much time for rehearsal and, unfortunately, this showed last night. There were a couple of prop failures (if you're familiar with the knife scene, you know that there must be split second accuracy, not a five second lag between the throw and the hit), a few jumbled lines, one mic that wasn't turned off after the actor left the stage (I hope his mother didn't hear what he said), and most importantly too much noise in moving those fabulous sets in and out while the "in one" scenes were being performed in front of the curtain.
Even with the little glitches, which will probably be gone tonight, this production is a top rate one and great fun, right down to the pajama-clad curtain call.
The Pajama Game, presented by Pittsburgh CLO, Van Kaplan, Executive Producer, runs through July 23 at the Benedum Theatre. Original book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell (based on Bissell's novel "7-1/2 Cents"). words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Starring Robert Cuccioli, Beth Leavel, Jane Lanier, Georgia Engel, Ray DeMattis, Jeff Howell, Patricia Phillips, Gene A. Saraceni, Paul Palmer, Ted Brunetti, Sr., Lisa McMillan, and Daniel Krell. Call (412) 281-2822 for ticket information.