Hey There: The Pajama Game Is Played Once More on Broadway
By Robert Simonson
Harry Connick, Jr., and Kelli O'Hara star in the new Kathleen Marshall revival of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' The Pajama Game, opening Feb. 23 at the American Airlines Theatre. Previews began Jan. 19.
Connick (composer of Broadway's Thou Shalt Not) makes his Broadway acting debut as Sid Sorokin and O'Hara (Tony nominee for The Light in the Piazza) is Babe Williams. They play the lovesick management and labor chiefs, respectively, at the musical's Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Pajama Game is a production of The Roundabout Theatre Company, by special arrangement with Jeffrey Richards, James Fuld Jr., and Scott Landis.
Observing "A New Town Is a Blue Town," lonely but strong Sid is the factory's new superintendent, caught in the middle of a battle between the workers and the company president, whose unsubtle name is Mr. Hasler. The workers want a 7-1/2 cent raise. Hasler says it's out of the question.
Babe won't let Sid get in the way of the union, Sid won't let the union get in the way of their relationship.
Director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall allows Connick's jazz-piano roots to sprout in "Hernando's Hideaway," a show-stopping sequence in which Sid — in order to solve the payroll issue — seduces Hasler's assistant, Gladys, into giving her access to the company's financial records. This all famously happens at a local Latin-themed nightspot where a handy piano prompts Connick to show his musicianship in a boldly theatrical context, as the company surrounds him in orgiastic fervor; it feels like the number you expect to see featured on the Tony Awards telecast.
Michael McKean, recently of Hairspray and A Second-Hand Memory, plays "time study" foreman (and former vaudevillian) Vernon Hines.
Megan Lawrence, who last summer played Rosario Dawson's saucy sidekick in Kathleen Marshall's Two Gentlemen of Verona in Central Park, is Hines' girlfriend, Gladys, the role played by Carol Haney in the original show. Unlike Haney, however, she does not sing the signature specialty, "Steam Heat"; that's been assigned to Joyce Chittick as Mae, the object of affection to wolfish Prez, the union president, played by Peter Benson, late of Wonderful Town.
Also in the production are Michael McCormick as Pop; Richard Poe as Hasler; and Roz Ryan as Mabel (who gets the choice duet with Hines, "I'll Never Be Jealous Again").
Bridget Berger, Stephen Berger, Kate Chapman, Paula Leggett Chase, Jennifer Cody, David Eggers, Michael Halling, Bianca Marroquin, Michael O'Donnell, Vince Pesce, Devin Richards, Jeffrey Schecter, Amber Stone and Debra Walton round out the cast.
Pajama Game is Marshall's third assignment as director-choreographer, following Broadway's Wonderful Town and Central Park's Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The production features three songs not heard in the original 1954 staging. One, "The World Around Us," was cut from the show during an out of-town tryout, according to Marshall. She first heard it as a bonus track on the CD reissue of the original cast recording. Sid Sorokin sings it in Act Two. "If You Win, You Lose," a second-act ballad for Babe, meanwhile, has been used in other productions, but never on Broadway. The third new song, "The Three of Us," was written by Richard Adler for Jimmy Durante in 1960s, but never recorded. It is being employed as a reconciliation song for Hines and Gladys (somewhat echoing Hines' vaudeville roots, although he apparently had a knife-throwing act years ago).
The libretto is by George Abbott and Richard Bissell (based on the Bissell novel, "7-1/2 Cents"). Book revisions for this production are by Peter Ackerman. Songs are by Ross and Adler, who share "music and lyrics" credit. Ross died young, at age 29 in 1955, with two solid hits under his belt — Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game.
The spunky Babe (who is all confidence) is big change from the mentally challenged youth O'Hara played in Piazza. "This is something I really wanted to do, this kind of character," O'Hara told Playbill.com. "I thought it was important to me, to play a strong, sexy, bold woman. This is a side that I think needs to be seen. I've done a great deal of the other, the young girl that needs a lot of help."
This is the second Broadway revival of the show. In 1973, a company directed by Abbott included Hal Linden, Barbara McNair and Cab Calloway. It played 65 performances at the Lunt-Fontanne.
The Roundabout production has orchestrations by Dick Lieb and Danny Troob. David Chase is the musical supervisor and vocal and dance arranger. Hair and wig design is by Paul Huntley. The creative team includes Derek McLane (set design), Martin Pakledinaz (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design) and Brian Ronan (sound design).
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