Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Pajama Game
Also see Richard's review of The Sunshine Boys
The Pajama Game is a real old-fashioned musical comedy with everything a 1950s show needs: hit songs with reprises, desirable primary characters and comic secondary characters, multiple love stories which are resolved happily, and several big production numbers.
The production currently playing at the St. Louis Muny has corresponding virtues, including imaginative lighting design, attractive candy-colored sets, lots of pretty boys and girls in colorful costumes, and direction which makes full use of the large Muny stage. There's also plenty of great singing, complemented by a full orchestra in the pit. The dancing is also strong, particularly several throwback numbers from Bruce Adler as Hines, and a recreation of the Bob Fosse choreography for "Steam Heat" danced by Brandon Bieber, Drew Humphrey and Jennifer Cody.
I admit I approached this show with a bit of trepidation. In some respects The Pajama Game, written in 1954, seems more dated than last week's offering, Peter Pan, which is based on a play written half a century earlier. The story of The Pajama Game drips with sexism and patriarchal attitudes, and many of what were originally comedic moments are just embarrassing today. However, you can't have the songs and dances without the story, and the Muny production wisely sidesteps the issue with a production style which clearly indicates that this show is set in the world of musical comedy fantasy and should not be taken as a realistic presentation of how men and women customarily behave towards each other, either in the 1950s or today. Similarly, the show's view of labor relations is not meant to be taken seriously; it's just part of the setup which allowed Richard Adler and Jerry Ross to write some of the most tuneful music ever heard on stage.
The story involves a romance between two star-crossed lovers: Babe is a union representative at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, while Sid is the hard-driving plant manager. Naturally they fall for each other, then break up after finding themselves on opposite sides during a labor dispute. However, their difficulties are no more grounded in the real world (meaning the world in which the rest of us live) than is any other aspect of the play, and I won't be giving anything away to tell you that the dispute is resolved and they get back together. Several secondary conflicts and romances similarly get sorted out, allowing the show to conclude happily with a production number set among the neon flamingos of Hernando's Hideaway.
Until the current production, The Pajama Game hadn't been seen at the Muny since 1968. I suspect the choice to produce it this year is related to the success of the recent Broadway revival starring Harry Connick, Jr. and Kelli O'Hara, which proved that if you can generate enough sexual heat between the leads, the more dated aspects of the show fade into insignificance. Will Chase and Kate Baldwin do their part in the heat-generation department: how many 1950s shows include a leading lady who removes her dress in the presence of her boyfriend, with the excuse that she has some cooking to do and doesn't want to get grease on her clothes?
Did I mention the music? It's the main reason The Pajama Game is still performed today, and along with 1955 hit Damn Yankees represents the best work by Adler and Ross. The best-known song is the ballad Hey There, which was a number one hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1954. Adler and Ross get good mileage from this tune, presenting it three times: first as a solo number by Sid, then by Sid in a duet with his own recorded voice, and finally as a reprise by Babe. Other popular songs from the show include Hernando's Hideaway, which is virtually guaranteed to set your toes tapping, and the enjoyable Steam Heat and i>Once-a-Year-Day!. There Once Was a Man, a duet between Babe and Sid, also gets a reprise. OK, I admit that reprises are old-fashioned, but their appeal is obvious: a good song is worth repeating. In this show, both reprises serve a dramatic purpose as well, demonstrating how relationships among the characters have changed over the course of the show.
The Pajama Game plays at the Muny in Saint Louis through July 29. Ticket information is available from the Muny ticket office in Forest Park, and from MetroTix at 314-534-1111, metrotix.com or any MetroTix location. The next production at the Muny will be Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which will be presented July 30 - August 5.
Book: George Abbott and Richard Bissell