Some Tony-award winning musicals, despite how many times they are revived, just don’t stand the test of time. “The Pajama Game,” this year’s offering from the University of Maine’s School of the Performing Arts, is one of them.
The show, with book by George Abbot and Richard Bissell and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, is dated in its depiction of women and their treatment in the workplace. Today, the romances most likely would be considered some form of sexual harassment, and there are a couple of male shoving incidents that would be classified as assault.
The student cast worked mightily Saturday night to overcome the flaws in this 1954 show about romance in the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, where workers are seeking a 7½-cent per hour raise. The romantic leads, both first-year students, weren’t experienced nor charismatic enough to overpower the slow first act, which has just one memorable song, “Hey There.”
The Second Act, which contains three of the show’s best numbers — “Steam Heat,” “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “7½ Cents” — was delightfully different than the first. The dance numbers generated lots of energy that gave the show’s finale a vibrancy that was sorely lacking in the first half.
Guest director Dawn McAndrews, producing artistic director at Theatre of
Monmouth, did a fine job using all of the Hauck Auditorium stage. The ensemble work was excellent, and the chorus sounded wonderful in the big numbers. No director’s note appeared in the program, which made it impossible to know why McAndrews or someone else picked this dinosaur after last year’s triumphant, more modern “Urinetown.”
“The Pajama Game” needs two veteran and dynamic performers in the lead roles to pull off the romance between union advocate Catherine “Babe” Williams and shop superintendent Sid Sorokin. Anna Giroux as Babe and Curran Grant as Sid were neither in Saturday night’s show. Their voices weren’t up to belting out “There Once Was a Man,” let alone selling it as seduction.
Giroux was delightful as the spunky, independent Babe except in her scenes with Grant. He was badly miscast in the role played by John Raitt on Broadway and in the 1957 film. Grant’s Sid needed to be more cocky and brash as a foil for the Giroux’s Babe.
The supporting cast appeared to be in a different show than the leads. Kate Dube as Gladys Hotchkiss, Zachary Peacock as Vernon Hines and Derreck Schrader as Barry “Prez” Benson infused the show, especially the Second Act, with energy. Their comic timing separately and together was perfect.
The real hero of the show was choreographer Raymond Marc Dumont. Few students in college productions have the training or experience to perform well the complex dance routines of the original production. Much of the cast in this version of “The Pajama Game” came close, especially in the show-stopping “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Steam Heat,” performed with panache and perfection by Dube, Nathan Reeves as Max and Jacob Siegel as Charley.
Dan Bilodeau’s expansive set with metal walkways gave the stage a factory feel. It worked well, but the action was slowed by the set changes when Babe’s kitchen and the Sleep-Tite office are brought on and off stage. Using a section of the stage for permanent set pieces would have shortened the long first act.
The costumes, designed by Kathleen P. Brown, were moderately successful. The women’s 1950s style dresses and Babe’s rolled-up jeans looked good and worked well in the dance numbers. Some of the men’s costumes, especially the clothes Sid wore in the first act, simply did not look like they fit the actors.
The cast and crew worked hard to give some life to “The Pajama Game,” but the cast was unable to overcome the dated and flawed story.
“The Pajama Game” will be performed through Sunday in Hauck Auditorium at the Memorial Union at the University of Maine in Orono. For tickets, call 581-1755 or visit umaine.edu/spa.