The Pajama Game, music and lyrics by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross, book by George Abbott & Richard Bissell, based on the novel "7 Ĺ Cents" by Richard Bissell. Directed by Stephen Sanborn.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"He was the one that she took poison for."
Passion is what theater is all about, really. Someone feels passionate about performance and so he, or she, devotes a lifetime to it disregarding all advice, discarding comments that donít suit his or her own vision of a life devoted to giving pleasure for something as ephemeral as applause. Passion is a part of the human condition; some people feel it more than others.
The Two of Us Productions is empowered by people who feel that kind of passion. "The creation of Stephen Sanborn and Constance Lopez" this company has brought musicals, plays, play readings and collaborative events to venues throughout the Hudson Valley and Berkshire County. Good reviews or bad, they are indefatigable, passionate devotees of the work they do.
"The Pajama Game," a 1954 Broadway musical that ran more than 1000 performances is also about passion and so it would seem to be a good mix, this company and this show. Sid Sorokin, the new plant manager at Sleep-Tite Pajamas falls passionately in love with Babe Williams, the head of the plantís grievance committee. She is strong-willed, passionate about her workers and about the new unionís drive to bring them all a living wage. She falls equally in love with Sid, but they are on opposing sides of the struggle, union and management. Human passions in conflict, they grow together, part harshly, strive for survival and ultimately share a future, one that will always have an uneasy edge to it as each will maintain that loyalty to their own ends of the society in which they live and work. Passions. Terrific stuff for musicals.
The songs that bring them together and force them apart are classics now. "Hey, There," the first song to use a Dictaphone for a duet partner, "Hernandoís Hideaway" in which a man searches for his love, Poopsie, and discovers all sorts of other things in the process, "Steam Heat" which holds in its thrall through movement and dance while extolling a union to move upward another notch into the "hot" zone, "Once-a-Year Day" which inspires an entire town to a frenzy of love-making and three-legged races. These are a few of the highpoints of The Pajama Game.
Then there is the key duet, an unromantic look at how people in passionate love embrace their opportunities, "There Once Was a Man." Romeo and Juliet is condensed into "He was the man that she took poison for/they say that nobody ever loved as much as She/But me?/I love you more." Can you get more passionate than that? I doubt it.
In the current production, on stage at the Hudson Middle School for two weekends, that duet is sung with passion and drive by the current Sid and Babe, Steve Leifer and Cat Messing. These are two powerful voices facing off, one on one, in an anything you can sing I can sing bigger mode. In a world of common folk, workers in a plant, these two are exemplary. Leifer is a bit more aggressive as Sid than he needs to be; it makes it difficult to sympathize with him. Messing is a bit too unrelentingly hostile to be easily believed as a woman falling in love in spite of herself. Much is missing from their characterís histories and so it falls to the actors to supply hints, and that sort of nuance is not in evidence in these performances in spite of the good singing and the strong acting.
In the secondary love story, that of Time-Study Manager Vernon Hines and secretary Gladys, the opposite is true. There is no intensity, only occasional passion and little other than the easy way out, constant smiles and awkward pauses. Hines is played somewhat blandly by Matt Coviello and Gladys is undertaken (literally) by Constance Lopez.
Smaller roles are given excellent moments by actors Kim Mauch as Charlene, the handy-woman, Lael Locke as Ma (more often played as "Pa"), Elizabeth Sherwood-Mack as Mae, and Mark Leinung as Max, the Salesman. Jody Satriani is excellent as Mabel, getting some of the most genuinely deserved laughs in the show. "Steam Heat" benefits greatly from the dancing of Dave Loewen in this rehash of the original, classic choreography of Bob Fosse, as restaged by his lover Ann Reinking and choreographed here - quite well - by Lopez.
Others in the cast who deserve praise for individual moments are singer Dan Leinung, Marie Allocca, Paul Mulholland for his acting, but not his singing, and the childrenís ensemble who work wonderfully.
The sixteen-member orchestra on opening night played remarkably well in a score that seems straightforward and simple, but if you listen and watch carefully you notice that this is not an easy score. One violinist needs to learn to tune-up properly and the guitar needs to be moved into another position so that his musical bits can be heard. Sanborn, as conductor, has done a good job in preparing his chorus and his musicians, but Sanborn as stage director has missed too many much-needed pieces of work. The staging becomes awkward because so little of it has been made to appear natural or related.
I have said before in reviewing this gentlemanís work that he might be able to do both of these chores well, but not at the same time. Here his strength is focused into the choral work with harmonies and counter-melodies nicely defined and delivered with an expert touch. But the staging of almost anything other than solos and some duets loses punch and play in the more difficult combination of making them work while working 16 musicians.
I am a lover, a passionate lover, of this show which I saw as a child of nine on Broadway with John Raitt and Janis Paige, Eddie Foy, Jr. and Carol Haney, and Reta Shaw and so many other wonderful 1950s performers. I still love this show, even if it has been washed up into simplicity a bit on the shores of Hudson by The Two of Us - thatís them, not me.
The Pajama Game runs at the Hudson Middle School, 102 Harry Howard Blvd. in Hudson, New York through November 15. Tickets are reasonable, and can be reserved by calling 518-329-6293.