BWW Review: THE PAJAMA GAME at Arena Stage
Some musicals from the golden age of Broadway are done to death. Let's face it, how many productions of Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof can you take? Anytime a theater chooses to produce a show that isn't seen as often as the aforementioned ones I get very excited. When they are presented well, my musical theater geekiness goes into overdrive. Arena Stage has put my geekiness into overdrive with its current production of the 1954 tuner The Pajama Game. With the exception of a production at Roundabout Theatre Company a few years back, this show really isn't performed very often professionally anymore.
To a point I understand why. Maybe the whole premise of George Abbott and Richard Bissell's book of people fighting for a seven and a half cent raise might feel dated to a modern audience. However, there is no denying that Richard Adler (music) and Jerry Ross' (lyrics) score is as good as any other from that period. The team only wrote one other show before Ross' all too early death at age 29. That show was a little number called Damn Yankees.
Picture yourself back in a simpler time in American history. It is 1954 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. You are inside the Sleeptite Pajama factory. The company is run by Mr. Hasler (Edward Gero) who is always looking at the bottom line. How do you put out a quality product for as little as possible? Does this sound familiar to anyone? Sid Sorokin (Tim Rogan) is the third superintendent to arrive at Sleeptite in a year. He has plenty of help to make the company run from efficiency expert Vernon Hines (Eddie Korbich) who always has his stopwatch in hand. He is sweet on Hasler's secretary Gladys Hotchkiss (Nancy Anderson) and gets really jealous if she even looks at another guy.
As with any organization, there is a union that is always fighting for something on behalf of the employees. Sleeptite's union rep, Prez (Blakely Slaybaugh), is currently fighting for the employees to receive the same seven and a half cent raise every other pajama factory has given its employees. When Sid has run in with one of the employees, the guy files a complaint with the grievance committee. The head of that committee is a no nonsense broad named Babe Williams (Britney Coleman). It turns out the employee pulls this kind of griping all the time, but during the process Babe and Sid develop a liking toward each other. Against this backdrop, there's one major question. With an impending strike from the workers, the question is can management (including Sid) reach an agreement with its workforce?
This is a 1950's musical so I think you can figure out what happens from here. It involves, knives, a secret place where everyone knows your face, and a guy singing into his voice recorder about the girl he loves. See the show to fill in the holes.
This kind of musical requires you to assemble a strong cast and ensemble. Director Alan Paul and Choreographer Parker Esse has definitely done this from beginning to end.
Britney Coleman as Babe Williams possesses a mean belt on such songs as "I'm Not at All in Love" and her strong performance as the never-back-down union type is as good as any you'll see.
Tim Rogan, as Sid Sorokin, is the perfect vocal and acting match for Coleman. His rendition of "A New Town is a Blue Town" is a definite highlight of the evening. Additionally, when you see him stand up to Gero's Hasler late in the show, it is truly inspiring.
Eddie Korbich gives a truly memorable performance as Hines and just wait till you see his tap specialty called "Think of the Time I Save." It really shows off this multi-talented performer to the max.
Tony Award Winner Donna McKechnie, as Mabel (Sid's secretary), has a great feature with Korbich entitled "I'll Never be Jealous Again". The number proves that McKechnie is a living legend of the stage.
Nancy Anderson as Gladys Hotchkiss stops the show with the dance feature "Steam Heat." I also enjoyed watching her get progressively more drunk as the "Hernando's Hideaway" scene with Rogan progressed. Her comedic timing is excellent.
Edward Gero, as Hasler, gives his usual fine performance while wearing one of the loudest and snazziest looking jackets I've ever seen during the company picnic scene. Trust me you can't miss it.
Director Alan Paul gets all of the 1950's sensibilities within the material. His direction is well-paced, slick, and just a whole lot of fun.
Parker Esse's dynamite choreography pays a loving homage to Bob Fosse's original. Sometimes you don't need to reinvent the wheel to create something good. The "Once A Year Day" number showed off his ensemble to the absolute finest of everyone's talents.
The twelve-piece orchestra under the direction of James Cunningham really cooks as they play a full sounding reduction of Don Walker's original twenty-two-piece orchestration. Despite the full sound, I did however miss hearing any kind of live string instrument on the ballads, particularly "Hey There." Michael Dansicker's new dance music is in the vein of Roger Adams' original.
James Noone's set pieces are nostalgic to say the least. Remember, this show is staged in the Fichlander in the round so there are no walls. I particularly liked the vintage Coca-Cola machine.
Alejo Vietti's costumes and Anne Nesmith's wigs are perfectly in period and the pajama parade at the end of the show is so worth the wait.
If you only have a "Once a Year Day" at the theater, please consider making The Pajama Game at Arena Stage your yearly choice. It isn't performed a whole lot and, in this case, it's a first-rate production. You'll exclaim "Hey There!! That was great!!"
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The Pajama Game runs through December 24th, 2017 in Arena Stage's Fichandler space. The venue is located at 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC.
For tickets, click here.