Broadway’s “Golden Age,” from the 1940s to the 1960s, brought us priceless musical gems that not only included memorable songs from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Rogers and Hammerstein, but also books that dealt with contemporary social issues. Some of these musicals have endured the test of time and when revived still manage to seem relevant. South Pacific, with its message about racism, (unfortunately) still resonates, no matter the decade.
The Pajama Game, which opened on Broadway on May 13, 1954, is certainly dated. Most clothing, including pajamas, are now produced, not in the U.S., but in countries like China and Bangladesh. Unions? Recently in New York after the reporters and editors at DNAinfo and Gothamist, voted to join the Writers Guild of America East, the billionaire owner, Joe Ricketts, shut both sites down, putting more than 115 people out of work.
Workplace romance? Certainly if factory superintendent Sid Sorokin had pressured Babe Williams – head of the grievance committee, no less – for a date, he would have found himself brought up on charges of sexual harassment. And factory timekeeper Vernon Hines’ bullying behavior with his girlfriend, Gladys, whenever she looked at another man, would have contributed to a toxic workplace.
Tony Neidenbach, Jay Adriel, and Nancy Anderson
In her program notes, Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, concedes that while the musical includes “a level of sexism,” we are currently experiencing some of the same issues right now. “The brilliance of American musical theater is the ability to underscore ideas that echo through the decades and remind us where we’ve come from and points to where society is going,” she writes.
Despite caveats, musicals that seem stuck in time can still be a lot of fun. Arena’s production of The Pajama Game certainly has many high points. The songs (music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross), include the romantic ballads “Hey There” and “Small Talk.” as well as the fast paced “Racing with the Clock,” and the clever “Think of the Time I Save.” Then we have the sultry “Steam Heat,” and the provocative “Hernando’s Hideaway,” each benefiting from terrific choreography by Parker Esse.
What’s at the heart of The Pajama Game, however, is the love story between Babe and Sid. In the 2006 Broadway revival, sparks flew between Kelli O’Hara and Harry Connick Jr. making their romantic back-and-forth fun to watch. Despite the two very talented leads in the Arena production – Britney Coleman as Babe and Tim Rogan as Sid – the romance never seems to generate much heat. Vernon (Eddie Korbich) and Gladys (Nancy Anderson), despite all their relationship issues, are easier to root for. Each actor also displays dancing talents – Anderson’s jazz number with “Steam Heat,” and Korbich’s tap skills with “Think of the Time I Save.”
Eddie Korbich and Donna McKechine
It was perhaps telling that the show-stopping moment happened early on. Donna McKechine, Broadway veteran and Tony Award winner (“A Chorus Line”) showed she still has game, when she teamed up with Korbich for a delightful “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again.” The audience was applauding before the last note had played.
Photos by Margot Schulman
Top: Tim Rogan and Britney Coleman
The Pajama Game
1011 Sixth Avenue, SW
Through December 24, 2017