With a full orchestra, no microphones,
and a distinctly 1950s sensibility,
‘The Pajama Game’ captures the jazzy,
snazzy spirit of Broadway’s Golden Age
Allentown, Pa. (Oct. 15, 2010) — When “The Pajama Game” opens Oct. 29 on Muhlenberg College’s Empie Theatre stage, director Charles Richter wants audiences to feel as though they’ve been transported to the Golden Age of the Broadway musical.
Like the show’s original 1955 production, Muhlenberg’s “The Pajama Game” will feature a full 22-piece orchestra, big voices, and no artificial amplification. Along with musical director Ken Butler and choreographer Karen Dearborn, Richter says he has been coaching the cast to adopt the “sort of spirited style” they will need to make sure their performance reaches the back row.
“This show conveys a wonderful sense of nostalgia,” Richter says. “Our aim is to recreate the experience of the Golden Age musical in a way that few productions really do — that touring companies just can’t accomplish. I want our audiences to be able to understand what made the American musical great.”
The second production in the Muhlenberg Theatre and Dance Department’s 2010-2011 mainstage season, “The Pajama Game” plays Oct. 29 through Nov. 7 in the College’s Baker Center for the Arts. Because of the College’s Family Weekend activities, tickets will be scarce for performances Nov. 5-7.
The score of “The Pajama Game” features the hit songs “Steam Heat,” “Hernando’s Hideaway,” and “Hey There,” classics of the Broadway repertoire. The show is heavily jazz-influenced, though it features numbers in a wide variety of styles, from tango to country and western.
“Every song’s a hit,” Richter says. “These are some of the best songs ever written for the stage. The score is extraordinarily rich and robust.”
Based on the novel “7 ½ Cents,” by Richard Bissell, “The Pajama Game” tells the story of love behind the picket lines. Conditions at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory are anything but peaceful, as sparks fly between new superintendent Sid Sorokin and Babe Williams, the leader of the union grievance committee. Their stormy relationship comes to a head when the workers strike for a seven-and-a-half-cent pay increase, setting off not only a conflict between management and labor, but a battle of the sexes as well.
“It’s a massively romantic musical,” Richter says. “All the main characters are looking for love, or finding love, or in tumultuous relationships. The show features a depth of characterization and storytelling that contemporary musicals tend to lack.”
“The Pajama Game” was the first of two collaborations between composer/lyricists Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and playwright/director George Abbott. The following year, they had another hit with the baseball musical “Damn Yankees,” but Ross died suddenly of lung disease, just a few months after it opened. He was 29.
“As good as it is, ‘The Pajama Game’ for me is about unfulfilled promise,” Butler says. “I can only imagine what another 20 years of Adler/Ross collaborations might have produced.”
Both productions won Tony Awards for best musical, and the 2006 Broadway revival of “The Pajama Game” won another Tony for best revival. “The Pajama Game” also featured the first stage choreography by Bob Fosse, arguably the most influential choreographer in musical theater history.
“Karen (Dearborn) has done a terrific job of building dances that convey the scope and energy of the show and the spirit of Fosse’s work,” Richter says.
The production features a scenic design by Curtis Dretsch, which he describes as “lighthearted, flexible, fluid, and colorful.” The centerpieces of his set design are eight 20-foot fabric swatches, in a variety of wild pajama-like patterns, which are moved about the stage to define playing spaces. Dretsch says he has broadened his color palette to capture the spirit of the show and the era.
“The set is marginally representational, but not at all literal,” he says. “I don’t think I have ever in my life used this much color on stage.”
Chris Szczerbienski (Class of 2011) designs lights for the production. Constance Case designs the costumes. Veteran conductor Vincent Trovato will lead the 22-piece orchestra. Emma Pressman (Class of 2012) is the production stage manager.
“The Pajama Game” plays Oct. 29 through Nov. 7 in the Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. The production is suitable for all ages.
Performances are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 29-30, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 31, at 2 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, Nov. 3-5, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 6, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 7, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under. For group of 15 or more, tickets are $15.
Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/theatre.