By Kenneth Jones
27 Mar 2003
Gary John LaRosa directs the rare revival of the show, which ran 1,108 performances beginning in 1937. Karen Mason and Jim Walton lead the troupe here.
The work was first presented by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, with "the ILGWU Players" at the Labor Stage (formerly the Princess Theatre). It later moved to the Windsor Theatre. Off-Broadway's Roundabout Theatre Company revived the show in 1967. Some material in this concert revival was unearthed in the Harold Rome archive and the Library of Congress and has not been heard since the show's debut.
According to Steven Suskin's book, "Show Tunes," the work was created because ILGWU entertainment director Louis Schaefer "was looking for an extracurricular morale building activity." Performers were drafted from the work force. Rome was known up to that point only as a songwriter for the upstate mountain resort known as Green Mansions. This show launched his musical theatre career. He died in New York in 1993.
A studio album of songs from Pins and Needles was recorded decades after it was a hit, with Rome heard on the record, and newcomer Barbra Streisand singing "Nobody Makes a Pass at Me," among other songs. The score includes "Chain Store Daisy," "Mene, Mene, Tekel," "Sing Me a Song With Social Significance," "Sunday in the Park," "Not Cricket to Picket," "One Big Union for Two," "It's Better With a Union Man," and more.
According to JRT production notes, "In light of the fact that Pins and Needles was updated and continued to change over its four-year run, Jewish Repertory Theatre's production compiles songs and sketches from all versions of the show and will present some material that has not been heard in over 65 years. Rome's songs, along with Joseph Schrank's sketches, remain fresh and funny, and are as contemporary and relevant as ever."
The original Pins and Needles was also seen on two national tours and in a command performance for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, accord to JRT.
The topical revue poked fun at everything from world politics and anti-war sentiment to high taxes and the growing labor movement in the U.S.A.
JRT artistic director Ran Avni said JRT is still looking for a permanent home, and the funding that will keep them there. JRT's 30th anniversary is in October 2003, and Avni is hoping to stage the first full-scale production in many months at that time.
JRT Pins and Needles performances are 8 PM March 27, 3 and 7 PM March 30 and 2 PM March 31 at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street. All tickets are $35 and can be purchased by calling (917) 606-8200.
Pins and Needles is part of JRT's season of musicals in concert, which is presenting lost or overlooked Jewish-themed musicals. Other works in this season were Minnie's Boys, about the Marx Brothers, and Jerry Herman's The Grand Tour. JRT will end its season with the Manhattan premiere of Bob Merrill's The Prince of Grand Street, May 29-June 2. JRT is currently in its 29th year and is under the direction of Avni and associate artistic director Warren Hoffman. JRT "is committed to producing theater that details the Jewish experience in America in the English language."
For more information, visit JRT's website at www.jrt.org.