BWW Reviews: Bayou City Concert Musicals' THE PAJAMA GAME is an Opulent Revival of an Old Gem
Bayou City Concert Musicals (BCCM) is kicking off their series of neglected 50s musicals with THE PAJAMA GAME, featuring Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell. The beloved romantic comedy is based on Richard Bissell's novel 7½ Cents. In the show, the factory workers at Sleep-Tite Pajamas are fighting for a 7½ cent per hour raise. In the midst of this, Babe Williams, the grievance committee head, and Sid, the handsome new factory superintendent, fall in love. THE PAJAMA GAME took New York City by storm when it premiered in 1954 and ran for 1,063 performances in its original run. It spawned a successful film adaption in 1957, had a failed Broadway revival in 1973, and found success again with a 2006 Broadway revival. Additionally, the BCCM production is the first professional production of the beloved musical in Houston in about 40 years.
Paul Hope's staged concert of THE PAJAMA GAME utilizes the original script and score, so it features numbers cut from the film and doesn't include changes made to the book in the 1973 revival or 2006 revival. In doing this, he makes a keen choice to let Houston audiences experience the work as it was intended. Likewise, Paul Hope's direction captures the plucky spirit of the simplistic but ebullient show, filling the performance space with mirth and glee. At times the book drags because of how emphatically it adheres to the formula of musical romantic comedy. I had never seen THE PAJAMA GAME before last night, and found myself pleasantly surprised by how risqué some of the lyrics were to the numbers. I can only imagine how many nervous giggles and blushing cheeks were elicited by the flirtatious book and lyrics in 1954. Paul Hope, with assistance from Mitchell Greco, keeps both the sexual and physical humor light and makes it feel surprisingly fresh despite our desensitization to such elements.
Starring as Sid Sorokin, Cole Ryden sparkles as brightly as his big blue eyes. He imbues the character with charm, ensuring that his Sid is both suave and handsome. Likewise, he sings each of his numbers well. His tenor voice is charismatic and engaging, making numbers like the hopeful "A New Town Is A Blue Town," the suggestive "Small Talk," and the romantic "There Once Was A Man" stand out. Moreover, his clever duet with himself on "Hey There" is one of the evening's most memorable and interesting performances.
Beth Lazarou is perfectly cast as the feisty and strong Babe Williams. With her wit and genial personality, her Babe Williams earns a soft spot in our hearts. Throughout the entire show, the audience can't help but root for her to get the raise and get the guy. Her rendition of "I'm Not At All In Love" effervesces with cuteness, and her vocals are graceful additions to "Small Talk" and "There Once Was A Man."
The show has a handful of zany characters as well. Jon L. Egging's Hines is a heartwarming goofball and a fascinating narrator, Jennifer Gilbert's Gladys is a comically moody and misunderstood secretary to the big boss, and John Raley is clearly having a lot of fun as Hasler, the uptight and never satisfied boss of Sleep-Tite Pajamas. Additionally, the rest of the cast is full of energy and talent, keeping the production cheerful and bouncing along. Stand outs for the ensemble are the spirited and enlivening performance of showy numbers like "Racing With The Clock," "Once A Year Day," and "Hernando's Hideaway Part 2."
Furthermore, the orchestra, as conducted by Dominique Røyem, plays with amazing skill and palpable vigor. They add a delightful brightness and richness to the production. Performing behind the cast in full view of the audience adds a unique and appreciated element to the musical staging done by BCCM. While THE PAJAMA GAME is only the second musical I have seen them produce, this element is one my favorite aspects of their performances and has me already anticipating next year's production of Bob Merrill and George Abbott's NEW GIRL IN TOWN.