I don't know what your definition of "event theater" is, but when the Muny mounts a musical that hasn't been staged in Forest Park for 39 years, I'd call that an event. Resurrecting The Pajama Game might have turned into a dry exercise about as exciting as unearthing a crusty old time capsule. But no: The scent of mothballs did not permeate the theater. The show has a certain quaintness, to be sure (jokes about radio broadcaster Fulton Lewis Jr. don't cut it these days), but the core of the fast-paced evening remains brash and sassy.
Here's why: The Pajama Game was the creation of young, exuberant men, all of them passionate to make good in the theater. It was the very first Broadway show ever produced by soon-to-become theater icon Hal Prince, the first Broadway musical ever choreographed by Bob Fosse. Here, in "Steam Heat," Fosse first imprinted his slouched-torso, tilted-bowler-hat trademarks. Jerome Robbins received his first directing credit on The Pajama Game. And for their first Broadway score, songwriters Richard Adler and Jerry Ross composed a string of bright songs.
The plot concerns labor unrest in an Iowa pajama factory, but that's not really what the show's about. For starters, it's about real, everyday people. (Apart from the blue jeans in Grease, this is the only Muny musical all summer in which the characters wear contemporary clothes.) But even beyond that, The Pajama Game is about real, everyday people with hormones. This is one sexy show. And kudos to the Muny for not sanitizing the script. Damns are not changed to darns; adults talk like adults. When, late in Act One, the leading man suggested to the leading lady (to whom he was not married) that she remove her dress while puttering about the kitchen and she did a young girl seated in front of me actually gasped. It's not often at the family-friendly Muny that the characters' main goal is to hop into the sack together. But that's the goal here, and pajamas don't figure into the endgame.
Will Chase as hunky factory superintendent Sid Sorokin and Kate Baldwin as Babe Williams, perky head of the union grievance committee, make for a highly combustible pair. Chase brings a natural, unprepossessing quality to Sid, and Baldwin who over the past two seasons has instilled inestimable charm on goody two-shoes roles in The Sound of Music and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers finally gets to radiate some sex appeal. When Chase and Baldwin blast their way through the hyperkinetic "There Once Was a Man," it's more fun than watching a National Geographic special about moose during mating season.
But once you get past the two leads, there are some dire casting misfires and, as usual, they stem from executive producer Paul Blake's draconian insistence on hiring his pals. To be ungentlemanly and blunt about it, Leslie Denniston is way too old for Gladys, the boss' young secretary. When Sid describes Gladys as "a cute kid," you almost have to bite your lip. Jennifer Cody, who is a fireball of energy as Poopsie (a role that has been stitched together to compensate for Denniston's miscasting), should be playing Gladys. But if Cody were Gladys, then Bruce Adler would be entirely wrong for Hines, the time-study man. Which he might be anyway, because the role was written as comedy relief, and Adler doesn't know how to have fun with it. So none of this makes any sense. Most senseless of all is John Freimann's beyond-hopeless performance as factory owner Mr. Hasler.
Despite slack direction by Blake (who apparently spends little time on the book scenes during rehearsals), it should be noted that the opening-night audience really tuned into this production. A constant flow of rambunctious musical numbers choreographed by Liza Gennaro and the two in-heat lead performances held the evening together. As the curtain call approached, almost no one left early. I haven't seen such an attentive Muny audience since West Side Story two years ago. So even with the flaws, of which there are too many almost all of them avoidable this dated musical comedy from 1954 delivers an evening of surprising freshness.
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