It might be tempting to write off The Pajama Game as a slight, dated musical from the 50s that doesn’t have much relevance today. After all, this is a show where characters throw around phrases like “dandy fellow” without even a trace of irony. And the plot centers around a heated dispute over a mere 7 1/2 cent raise.
But The Pajama Game holds up surprisingly well as 2017 fare — for better or worse — and Arena Stage’s production knowingly winks at many of those contemporary connections. Casual workplace sexism that should feel decades old sadly feels jarringly familiar again (and lines like “you’re the cutest grievance committee I’ve ever had to deal with” land differently post-Weinstein). Relationships today are still tested when couples fight for opposite sides and face clashing values. And didn’t we just see an entire media company broken up after rumblings of unionization bubbled to the surface?
But that’s no reason to sink into a funk — the primary function of Arena Stage’s production is hardly to depress audiences about how little things have changed since 1954. This delightful show is one big, infectious pajama party, buoyed by an electric lead couple, the undeniable talents of several stage veterans, and a dizzying amount of precise, infectious choreography that the team makes look effortless.
The Pajama Game primarily is the love story between Sid (Tim Rogan) and Babe (Britney Coleman). He’s a supervisor at a pajama factory and she’s that cute head of its union’s grievance committee. Sparks immediately fly after a minor complaint surfaces, and the couple’s soon in deep for each other. But Babe knows their love may not survive a battle over wages, and her fears are confirmed as tensions rise between the workers and management.
Rogan and Coleman sizzle on stage together. Rogan’s so dashing and square-jawed, it’s almost laughable (it will surprise no one that the actor’s credits include Gaston from Beauty and the Beast), with a voice straight out of a Golden-age musicals cast recording. Coleman inhabits Babe with sunny, gregarious ease, and the two heat up the stage in numbers like the country-tinged “There Once Was a Man.” Coleman has just as much chemistry with her chorus of female factory workers, who tease her with abandon during the tightly-choreographed conditional love song, “I’m Not at All in Love.”
The Pajama Game, surely, isn’t lacking in terrific musical numbers — recall the rueful classic, “Hey There,” that clever duet between a man and his own voice, played back over his dictaphone. The show also proves to be a winning showcase for the dazzling dance abilities of the show’s many stage veterans. “Hernando’s Hideaway” is a sultry seduction to the iconic underground club.
Fleet-footed Broadway veterans Eddie Korbich and Donna McKechnie gamely hoof their way through the hilarious “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again.”
As the saucy secretary Gladys, Nancy Anderson leads a pair of chorus dancers through the Fosse-inspired “Steam Heat”, which plays out like a master class in musical theater dance (her drunken descent after “Hideaway” also gives her the chance to show off her slapstick skills).
The Pajama Game
closes December 24, 2017
Details and tickets
Supporting players regularly almost steal the show in this production — just see hipster cad Blakely Slaybaugh lithely slink his villainous way through “Her Is” (the actor’s calisthenic poses bring comic relief to every scene he’s in).
James Noone’s spare set lets the costumes, props, and movement come into focus — colorful fabric whirls and spins its way around the stage in the pajama factory, bright hula hoops and frenetically-moving sports equipment create a vivid summer park scene. Dancers do make nice use of a rising set of stairs leading up into Arena’s theater-in-the-round audience. Choreographer Parker Esse and director Alan Paul seduce the audience into wanting to join the actors onstage, whether it be in that seductive nightclub or at that enviable company picnic. After all, if we’re still stuck with the problems of the 1950s, shouldn’t we get a little dose of 1950s fun in the process?
The Pajama Game. Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell. Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Based on the Novel 71/2 Cents by Richard Bissell. Directed by Alan Paul. Cast: Eddie Korbich, Gabi Stapula, Blakely Slaybaugh, Edward Gero, Nancy Anderson, Donna McKechnie, Tim Rogan, Britney Coleman. Choreographed by Parker Esse. Music Direction by James Cunningham. Dance Music by Michael Dansicker. Set Designer James Noone. Costume Designer Alejo Vietti. Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel. Produced by Arena Stage. Reviewed by Missy Frederick.