Also see John's most recent installment in his "A Life In the Theatre" series: The Stage Manager
The Pajama Game is based on the novel "7-1/2 Cents" by Richard Bissell. With a book rewritten by George Abbott, the musical features a score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The original production, starring John Raitt and Janis Paige, opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on May 13, 1954, and ran for 1,063 performances, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Choreography (Bob Fosse) and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Carol Haney). It was revived on Broadway in 1973 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, closing after just 65 performances. It was revived again in 2006 by The Roundabout Theatre Company, closing after 129 performances. The 2006 production received nine Tony Award nominations, winning for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Choreography (Kathleen Marshall). A film version of the musical was released in 1957 starring John Raitt and Doris Day.
The story deals with labor troubles at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, where worker are clamoring for a 7-1/2 cent per hour raise, and a strike is imminent. In the midst of this ordeal, love blossoms between Babe, the complaint committee head, and Sid, the new factory superintendent. When a slow-down is staged by the union, Sid is forced to fire Babe in the fall-out. Obviously, this throws a monkey wrench in their budding romance.
The head of the factory, Mr. Hasler, appears intent on holding the union's requests at bay, while harboring a secret of his own. The company time-study man, Hines, is in love with Mr. Hasler's private secretary, Gladys, though their relationship is marred by his insane jealousy. And the married head of the union, Prez, seems to spend most of his time chasing every woman in sight. Though the original novel by Richard Bissell was greatly improved upon by George Abbott, the book for The Pajama Game is admittedly dated. It deals with many workplace scenarios that are so inappropriate by today's standards, that they would result in lawsuits. Still, songs by Adler and Ross such as "Steam Heat", "Hernando's Hideaway," and "Hey There," combined with choreography done in the style of the stellar Bob Fosse, make this musical a classic with charm.
The New World School of the Arts production makes admirable use of a somewhat small space for this large show. Scenic designer Jeff Quinn has tiers of pajamas neatly hung from metal poles, moving to frame the set to good effect. Costuming by Estela Vrancovich is right in the time period. The live band plays decently throughout the show, though lacking in some precision. The sound was fine for the leads on the night attended, but the ensemble members really need to be mic'd for group numbers and scattered dialogue. Choreography by Rafael Maldonado-Lopez and Liz Malm is especially great in "Racing With The Clock" and "Steam Heat" but surprisingly lackluster in "Hernando's Hideaway." Director Patrice Bailey keeps the production's feel genuine, the pacing on track, and she seems to have encouraged some solid character choices from these young actors.
Nicholas Duckardt is mature and masculine as Sid, with a real leading-man singing voice. Nikki Pettus does a nice job as Babe, though her character is a bit hard to warm up to. Together, however, Duckardt and Pettus create warmth on stage. Dusty St. Amand as Prez stands out as the strongest male dancer in the cast. He and Lindsey Forgey as Gladys are smashing in "Steam Heat." Though both Forgey as Gladys and Jeffrey M. Tousey as Hines are funny separately, they create no real chemistry as a couple. David Hemphill makes the mistake of overacting as Mr. Hasler, but he is the only "villain" in the piece. Jamie Mattocks is quite the comedienne as Sid's secretary Mabel, with shades of the late Gilda Radner. The ensemble as a whole is cohesive, and the staging is quite good in this production of a show not frequently done because of the potentially difficult choreography and cast size.
The Pajama Game will be appearing through February 24, 2008 in the Louise O' Gerritts Theater at the New World School of the Arts. The theatre is located at 25 NE 2nd Street, in Miami, FL. The New World School of the Arts was created by the Florida Legislature as a Center of Excellence in the visual and performing arts. It is an educational partnership of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami Dade College and the University of Florida. Through its partnership with the University of Florida, the New World School of the Arts is able to grant Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees. For more information on the New World School of the Arts, you may contact them by phone at 305/ 237-3541, online at www.mdc.edu/nwsa/.