The Pajama Game
Whoever thought that a union vs. management squabble at a pajama factory (as depicted in Richard Bissell's novel "7½ Cents") could be turned into a successful musical must have been a prescient genius, since the show really worked, and has been going for almost 60 years now. The music and lyrics are by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; they followed this up the next year with Damn Yankees. Ross then died at age 29, but at least he and Adler left behind two enduring musicals.
Not all the songs in The Pajama Game are equally good. There's a fair amount of filler material, including the well-known "Steam Heat", which has nothing at all to do with the storythey snuck it in under the pretext of its being entertainment at a union meeting (really?). But the good songs like "Hey There" and "Hernando's Hideaway" more than outweigh the duds. Besides, nobody's claiming that this is the best American musical of the 20th century. (I'm referencing here my recent review of Carousel.)
Besides the part of the story that has to do with a work slowdown and threatened strike and duplicitous boss, there's the romance between the new plant supervisor, Sid Sorokin, and the head of the union grievance committee, Babe Williams. They are played here by the husband and wife team of David and Jessica Aubrey, who are really talented and natural performers. One of the high points of the show is David's "Hey There" duet with the dictaphone, and everything they both do is charming.
A total joy is Janine O'Neill as Gladys, the executive secretary, who gets the "Hernando's Hideaway" number. She has the second-banana role down pat, as if she had just stepped out of a Hollywood screwball comedy. Among the large supporting cast, I'd single out, for their vivaciousness, Kathy Millé Wimmer, Vanessa Sanchez, and the absolutely indefatigable Shirley Roach, but almost everybody else is very good as well.
The show is presented in Musical Theatre Southwest's black-box space, which necessitates a lot of ingenuity by the creative team to fit a big show into a small area. The set by David Torres uses the room cleverly, with quick changes between factory scenes, an outdoor picnic, and a nightclub. The costumes by Shannon Scheffler and hair by Lynn Hall are spot-on '50s style.
The intimacy of the performing area is somewhat restricting in the dance numbers, but the advantage is that you get to hear voices talking and singing unamplified. No microphones, no sound system. How often does that happen anymore? What a pleasure.
Terry S. Davis, the director, and Vicki Marie Singer, the production coordinator and stage manager, have done a thoroughly enchanting job with this show. I found myself smiling all the way through. And most of the audience seemed to enjoy it mightily.
One thing, though: Most of the audience at this Sunday afternoon performance were old enough to have seen this show at its Broadway premiere. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it would be nice to see some young faces in the crowd so that musical theater in Albuquerque can continue to thrive for years to come. I don't know if there's a way to get the younger generation interested in musicals like The Pajama Game, but I'll try: See this show, no matter what your age. You'll have a good time.
The Pajama Game, a musical by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, with book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, based on Bissell's novel, is being presented through August 18, 2013, by Musical Theatre Southwest at their Center for Theatre, 6320 Domingo NE in Albuquerque. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 4:00. Info at musicaltheatresw.com or (505) 265-9119.