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Regional Reviews: Seattle

The Pajama Game Shines at Seattle Musical Theatre

Kirsten deLohr Helland and
Derek Hanson

True, it's a musical favored by high schools and community theatres alike, but The Pajama Game has an impressive pedigree: It was the 1955 Tony Award winner for Best Musical with book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell (based on Bissell's novel 7½ Cents) and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (who later wrote Damn Yankees); it launched the careers of choreographer Bob Fosse and chorus girl/understudy Shirley MacLaine; it became a popular movie featuring Doris Day and the original Broadway cast; Rosemary Clooney scored a radio hit with her rendition of the show's romantic ballad "Hey There"; it has all the ingredients for crowd pleaser status. But when Broadway first considered a revival in 1973, it unfortunately fell victim to its own simplicity and was deemed an obsolete product of its time. Happily, Harry Connick Jr. helped give the show a new lease on life in 2006, and it won the Tony for Best Revival that year.

Seattle Musical Theatre's current production, their 34th season opener, is appealing for the exact reason Broadway passed the show over in 1974: simplicity. Yes, the show is a throwback to an era where songs commented on scenes rather than developing the plot further, but its social relevancy has come full circle in terms of an unhappy work force fighting for better pay (7½ cents was a big deal in 1955!), union struggles and fiscal corruption. Also, the various romances are still heartwarming and hilarious. Director David-Edward Hughes has done well in not attaching unnecessary bells or whistles and keeping the show firmly rooted in its origins rather than laboring against them. His production team of music director David Close, choreographer Harry Turpin, costumer John Allbritton and set designer Timothy Spencer, have created a musical valentine recalling an age too often overlooked, and to which so much of Broadway's heritage is owed.

The plot is most certainly unencumbered by today's standards; basically, the employees of a Midwest pajama factory are looking to better their lot and management is, of course, resistant. The various personal (or personnel) stories unfold amidst this backdrop. As romantic leads Sid and Babe, Derek Hanson and Kirsten deLohr Helland are delightfully matched, easily winning over the hearts and sympathies of the audience. Hanson's crooning vocals on "Hey There" are Sinatra-smooth, and deLohr Helland is empathetic and engaging in "I'm Not At All in Love." Together, they sparkle in the fast-paced duet "There Once Was a Man," the audience favorite of the evening.

As clock-obsessed Hines and chief secretary Mabel, Frank Kohel and Loretta Deranleau Howard are comic perfection in the number "I'll Never Be Jealous Again," in which Hines vows to amend his behavior toward love interest Gladys, played deliciously by Lindsey Larson. Gladys was the role that put Shirley MacLaine on the map, and Larson shows us why in the numbers "Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway." Gladys and union rep employee Prez, played with unctuous abandon by Spencer Fairbanks, have salacious fun with the duet "Her Is." The entire cast is quite wonderful, from Mark Abel's endearing turn as Pop, Babe's father, to Ryan McCabe's high-strung pajama salesman Max, Zandi Carlson's forcefully funny Brenda and Stephen Locklear's dastardly Mr. Hasler. All are top-notch and supported by an A-game ensemble.

Production values include solid music and vocal direction from David Close, eye-catching choreography from Harry Turpin, fifties fashions in a delirious range of color by costumer John Allbritton, and a factory interior/exterior set by Timothy Spencer. Sound design by Janice Klain and lighting design by Richard Schaefer are also instrumental in the overall effect of the show. In fact, the only minus to the evening is the uncomfortable warmth of the theatre sympathies to the actors, because if the audience feels discomfort, then the actors must truly be suffering. Luckily, it's Seattle and we're about due for a change in the weather.

The Pajama Game runs through October 2, 2011, at Seattle Musical Theatre, 7120 62nd Ave NE. Tickets online at or phone the box-office at (206) 363-2809.

Photo: Stewart Hopkins

- John James DeWitt

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