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The Pajama Game

Since that first day when I said 'Hi' town
They've damned well tried to make me say 'goodbye town.'
But I won't leave until I make it my town they'll see
They'll see this one horse two bit hick of a new town
Ain't gonna lick me:
--- from " A New Town is a Blue Town" sung by Sid Sorokin (Harry Connick, Jr.)

Kelli O'Hara & Harry Connick Jr.
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Can anyone think of a better vehicle for Harry Connick, Jr. than The Pajama Game? Without a doubt, it’s the perfect showcase not only for this comely multi-talented entertainer's sterling pipes but also his sculptured pectorals (though for the pecs you have to wait for the finale). Although Connick performed in concert on Broadway in 1990, this is his theatrical debut, an occasion that will assure him more plaudits than he earned for the fine score (also a first) he composed in 2002 for the failed musical Thou Shalt Not.

One has to think back to the theatrical debut of film-star Hugh Jackman (The Boy from Oz) for a performance as impressively polished (as in who knew?) as is Connick’s. That he has already proved himself a disarmingly engaging singer/musician with the relaxed assurance and sound of Frank Sinatra (an obvious idol) only gives him an edge in a role closely associated with original star John Raitt and perhaps a few other formidable baritones. Notwithstanding the sly hint that he is having more fun with the role than perhaps an acting guru like Stanislavski might approve, he essays the role of Sid Sorokin, the attractive new factory superintendent with a charming air of credibility. He also moves through the dance numbers with playful panache.

As it turns out, the recent New York City transit strike with its protracted talks -- not to mention the impending strike by Macy's Herald Square employees -- certainly helped to make this labor versus management show notably topical . ** Happily, the love versus labor relations at the "Sleep Tite" pajama factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa couldn’t have found a more buoyant and ingratiating company than the one director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall has assembled for an unfortunately limited engagement (but things like this do have a way of changing) for this Roundabout Theater production.

The other romantic lead, Babe, the head of the union’s grievance committee is played with plucky pizzazz by pretty Kelli O’Hara, who most winningly meets all the tough and tender demands of the role. O’Hara, a winner of the state Metropolitan Opera auditions, who most recently delighted and showed off her impressive vocal range in The Light in the Piazza (Tony nomination), handles her vocals with an impressive technique, particularly in the octave-jumping duet (with Sid) "There Once Was a Man." Alone Connick and O’Hara sizzle, but together they are dynamite.

Much of the excitement of The Pajama Game is expressed in its wittily insinuating and now famous dance creations, the jazzy "Steam Heat," and the tango-flavored "Hernando’s Hideaway." These have been wonderfully re-conceived by Marshall with only a respectful nod to the show’s original choreographer Bob Fosse, using the famously angular moves that have defined "Steam Heat" for the ages. Now donning the obligatory bowler hat and suit is the sprightly quirky Joyce Chittick (who plays wall-flower Mae), and who, teamed with the masculine partnering of Vince Pesce and David Eggers give the number the renewable lease it deserves. Overall (and it’s not a gripe) Marshall’s choreography, as in the big company picnic ballet "Once a Year Day," seems geared to refresh and delight, rather than show off the technique of this terrific dancing corps.

If "Steam Heat" has its predictability, the satiric sultriness of "Hernando’s Hideaway" gets a whole new lease given the added excitement created when a piano is rolled onto the dance floor for Connick. His jazzy honky-tonk interpolations are as refreshing integrated as is the humorous action that Marshall has marshaled to enhance it. Sid’s romancing of the boss’s secretary, the red-headed tomato Gladys (Megan Lawrence), for the sole purpose of getting the key to the business ledger that she wears around her neck, also provides an opportunity for the inebriated Lawrence to stop the show in her own right with some riotously acrobatic behavior.

This may only be Marshall’s third Broadway show (Wonderful Town on Broadway and Two Gentlemen of Verona in Central Park), but her individuality and flair as a choreographer/director is even more in evidence here. The Pajama Game places her firmly at the top of her profession.

It’s good to report that the score, chock-full of appealing songs, is not being botched up by over zealous electronic enhancement. As caringly conducted by Bob Berman, the intimate ballad "Hey There" (sung by Connick and then reprised by O’Hara) is afforded the sense of intimate impact it needs.

But it’s the up numbers, the rib-tickling "Racing with the Clock," in which rows of sewing machine operators sing in counterpoint, and the rousing "Seven and a Half Cents," as delivered by the rallying labor-force chorus that get one into the true spirit of the genre.

The Pajama Game relies a lot on its comical cartoon spirit. As the bespectacled nerdy Prez, Peter Benson may not look like your typical head of a union, but he gets this vote for his Jerry Lewis-like antics romancing Gladys ("Her Is".). Michael McKean, as Hines, the factory’s frantic jealous knife-throwing (don’t ask) time-study manager who endears himself as an audience favorite early on ("I’ll Never Be Jealous Again"), abetted by a formidably funny Roz Ryan, as Mabel, Old Man Hasler’s wise and wise-cracking executive secretary. A more droll side of Hines is exposed by McKean who sings "The Three of Us," with music and lyrics by Adler that was originally written for Jimmy Durante in the 1960s. It is touchingly interpolated into the show as a reconciliation number for Hines and Gladys who previously never had a number together. Purists will most likely be disposed to consider the addition of two other songs.

It's a pleasure to hear Connick sing a beautiful ballad, "The World Around Us", that was cut from the show during its out-of-town tryout. It has its dramatic value as it serves to give Sid a much needed (and only) ballad in the second act. Lastly, the reprise of "Hey There," sung by O’Hara, segues effortlessly into "If You Win, You Lose." This is a real winner that's has been used in other productions but has never been heard on Broadway.

This production, with its still witty book originally the work of George Abbott and Richard Bissell and now featuring book revisions by Peter Ackerman, not only doesn’t show its age but it’s virtually wrinkle free. It has been given a richly hued expressionistic 1950s buttons-bedecked, sewing machine wheels-a-spinning décor by Derek McLane. More likely to make your head spin are the bright and period-right polka-dot, plaid, and stripped "Sleep Tite" fashions created by costumer Martin Pakledinaz. You could say that lighting wizard Peter Kaczorowski has his work cut out for him to keep this cast from out-shining his exemplary work.

Given the complete canon of memorable American musicals from what is acknowledged as the golden age, The Pajama Game which was a huge hit when it premiered with Janis Paige and that formidable baritone Raitt easily comes to mind as fitting for a Broadway revival. Yet a Broadway revival in 1973 lasted but 65 performances, though the widely loved and hugely popular score seeded a 1989 New York City Opera production with Judy Kaye and Richard Muenz. It There was also an excellent 1957 Warner Bros film directed by Stanley Donen with most of the original Broadway performers, plus Doris Day.

The latest revival is certainly not one to be missed. Perhaps my partiality for this exuberantly sassy show also stems from my playing the original cast recording to distraction in my youth.

** An addendum to Simon's comment on the timeliness of the show's labor dispute: While labor strife which now is as much about health and pension benefits as wages is certainly forever timely, it's unlikely that any labor disputes in this country would involve workers in a pajama factory. Take a look at the label in your pajamas, nighties or most other items of clothing, and it's likely to have a "Made in China" (or other far off place) label. With that in mind, a revival with an all Asian cast might make for yet another lively take on this durable song and dance show. -- Elyse Sommer.

Some Background on the Pajama Game Music
by Elyse Sommer

I found the Roundabout's revival of The Pajama Game as fresh and enjoyable as Simon did and agree that Harry Connick Jr. is an inspired choice to play Sid Sirokin. Seeing the show at the February 25th matinee performance I had the extra pleasure of hearing David Chase, the show's musical supervisor and vocal & dance arranger address the topic "Behind the Music of The Pajama Game " The charming and knowledgeable Mr. Chase needed little prompting from discussion facilitator Ted Sod to provide details about how he and director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall went about taking this beloved score and making it as immediate today as fifty years ago -- and to do it as invisibly as possible.

One of the chief differences between then and now was that originally the numbers were done "in one" which, as he explained meant that the the songs were done in front of the curtain while the scene change was made in back of it. With this in mind, the current revival takes advantage of more sophisticated and seamless modern stagecraft but pays homage to the original scene changing curtain with the penultimate scene set against a curtain made of pajama fabrics.

As Simon so aptly pointed out the homage factor was also on Ms. Marshal's mind in her staging of the famous "Steam Heat," number. The nod to Bob Fosse's choreography helped her and Chase to give that aimed for invisibility to the reshuffling of characters here and elsewhere. Chase explained that with Connick in the Sid Sorokin role it was inevitable to introduce a piano number and to do so without the audience ever wondering how a factory superintendent could suddenly be such a terrific pianist. He also explained that once that piano solo was worked into "Hernando’s Hideaway" it became natural to add more of a flavor of where music was headed at the time.

In commenting on the added songs, Mr. Chase explained that "The Three of Us" for Hines and Gladys was a number Adler & Ross originally wrote for Jimmy Durante, and that the "If You Win You Lose" was added to deepen the sexual chemistry between Babe and Sid so that even when they were parted by the 7 1/2 cent dispute they were still singing together. And speaking of sexual chemistry, tame as it may seem today, the scene where Sid and Babe can't wait for her dad to leave was considered risqué in 1954. This was also true for leaving that pajama top off which gives current viewers a chance to admire those sculptural Connick pectorals that Simon warned us wouldn't be on view until the end -- but who cares, better late than never.
Book by George Abbott & Richard Bissell based on the book 7 1/2 Cents by Richard Bissell -- with book revisions for this production by Peter Ackerman
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross
Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall.
Cast (In Order Of Appearance): Peter Benson (Prez), Joyce Chitt1ck (Mae),Bridget Berger (Virginia),Stephen Berger (Charlie), Kate Chapman (Martha),Paula Leggett Chase (Brenda), Jennifer Cody (Poopsie), David Eggers (Lewie), Michael Halling (Cyrus), Bianca Marroquin (Carmen), Vince Pesce (Jake), Devin Richards (Joe), Jeffrey Schecter (Ralph), Debra Walton (Shirley), Michael McKean (Hines), Richard Poe (Mr. Hasler), Megan Lawrence (Gladys), Roz Ryan (Mabel), Michael McCormick (Ganzenlicker/Popl), Harry Connick, Jr. (Sid Sorokin), Kelli O'Hara (Babe Williams)
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Brian Ronan

Music Director: David Chase
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission
Roundabout/American Airlines, 237 W. 42nd St. (8th/9th Avs)212-719-1300
From 1/19/06 to 6/18/06; opening 2/23/06.
Wed to Sat at 8pm; Wed, Sat, Sun at 2pm; Sun at 7:30pm.
Tickets: $76.25 to $101.25.

Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on 2/17 press performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture/ The Orchestra
  • Racing with the Clock / Factory Workers
  • A New Town Is a Blue Town/ Sid
  • I'm Not at All in Love/ Babe, Factory Girls
  • I'll Never Be Jealous Again / Hines, Mabel
  • Hey There/ Sid
  • Racing with the Clock (Reprise)/ Factory Workers
  • Sleep Tite /Joe, Brenda, Martha, Cyrus
  • Her Is Prez/ Gladys
  • Once-a-Year-Day/ Sid, Babe. Company
  • Her Is (Reprise) / Prez, Mae
  • Small Talk /Sid, Babe
  • There Once Was a Man/ Sid, Babe
  • Hey There (Reprise)/ Sid
Act Two
  • Steam Heat Mae, Lewie. Jake
  • The World Around Us Sid
  • Hey There (Reprise) / If You Win, You Lose * Babe, Sid
  • Think of the Time I Save Hines, Factory Girls
  • Hernando's Hideaway Gladys, Sid, Company
  • The Three of Us * Hines, Gladys
  • Seven and a Half Cents Prez, Babe, Factory Workers
  • There Once Was a Man (Reprise) Babe, Sid
  • The Pajama Game Full Company
  • *If You Win, You Lose and The Three of Us ( music & lyrics by Richard Adler)
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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