“The Pajama Game” is one of those cute little musicals that leaves you humming long after the performance. The songs might be simple and the characters might be one-dimensional, but both are nonetheless very memorable. This past weekend, the Ann Arbor Civic Theater brought this wonderful show to a packed Mendelssohn, greeted by a warm audience response.
“The Pajama Game” is based on the comedic novel, “7 1/2 Cents,” by Richard Bissell, which was a bestseller back in 1954. The book was adapted for the stage by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, the creative team behind such musicals as “Damn Yankees!” Boasting a stellar cast, including Hollywood actors such as John Raitt (the father of musician Bonnie Raitt) and Janice Paige, “The Pajama Game” was an instant hit, sweeping the Tony awards that year and jumpstarting the careers of Ross and Adler.
The Ann Arbor Civic Theater reminded us once again why “The Pajama Game” was such a smash. Set in the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the show gives us insight into courtship, labor relations, and of course, pajamas. Sid Sorokin (Kevin Binkley), the handsome new superintendent at Sleep Tite, immediately faces a variety of problems on the job. One such problem is the factory grievance committee, a small group of workers led by feisty Babe Williams (Melissa Henderson). The workers threaten a strike without a 7 1/2 cent raise on their paycheck, but Sid is torn between the demands of his boss, Hasler (Fred Kahle) and his affections for Babe.
The best thing about “The Pajama Game” is the sense of community it creates onstage. Professional and personal lives are intertwined through the factory, which is a hotbed for gossip. The camaraderie among the workers, in particular, lends itself to some of the show”s best numbers. “Racing With the Clock” and “Once a Year Day” are energetic pieces that poke fun at assembly line efficiency and lack of time off. Watching the management bicker is also a lot of fun. Hines” (Anthony J. Provenzola) crush on secretary Gladys (Emily Phenix) creates some comical situations, the funniest of which involves a pair of faulty pajamas.
Consisting of all non-professional performers, “The Pajama Game” was extremely well-cast. Binkley and Henderson”s voices blended well together and had good chemistry onstage. The real stars of the production, however, were the supporting players, who definitely had the showier roles. Provenzola was especially comical as Hines, the knife-throwing efficiency expert at Sleep Tite, who also served as the quasi-narrator for the show.
Under the adept direction of Ron Baumanis, the A2CT production of “The Pajama Game” achieved a high level of professionalism. The often complex dancing, particularly in sequences such as “Steam Heat” and “Hernando”s Hideaway,” were executed flawlessly. No matter how difficult it might have been to bring the show to the stage, the actors never missed a step. It looks like they had a blast making “The Pajama Game” and in return, the audience had a blast watching it.