“The Pajama Game” is an “old-fashioned” (i.e., sexist) musical about love in the workplace, a relic from a bygone era in which sexual harassment was cute and funny.
It takes place at a Midwest pajama factory mired in conflict. The workers, led by a philandering union president (Steve Phillips) and a tough-talking employee named Babe Williams (Teri Cowan), want a 7 1/2-cent raise. Blustery boss Hasler (Neal Barth) and his new superintendent Sid Sorokin (Gary Neilson) don’t want to give it. You can see where the conflict would come in.
It’s complicated by the fact that Sid and Babe fall in love with each other, despite being on opposite sides of the battle. After a 105-minute first act so sluggish it feels like an eternity, the inevitable happens, and Sid has to choose between his loyalty to the company and his love for Babe. You can guess what happens, since there’s still a second act in which to sort things out.
It was a hit on Broadway in 1954, and some of its charms remain, particularly in the tuneful score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross that includes “Hey There” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”
Most of what must have been appealing 46 years ago, though, has decomposed with time. Married men who hit on all the women at work are not considered charming anymore, nor is it generally acceptable to depict the women as swooning airheads who are susceptible to every masculine advance that comes their way.
Furthermore, while the show has several fine songs, it also has a disproportionate number that are completely unrelated to the action. Most musicals have one or two of those, of course, but this one has many. You don’t mind them when they’re peppy, pretty or exciting, but most of these just ARE: They exist, but they don’t do anything.
Neilson and Cowan are very good as Sid and Babe. Neilson is a great old-time musical performer, with a stocky build and a voice that is melodious but still very manly, and Cowan gives her character much more life than she deserves. Also worthy of note is the hilarious, bird-legged Annette Wright as feisty secretary Mabel.
As an artifact from a different time in American theater, the show may hold some interest. But even if you happen to be a fan of the show, this slow-paced, mostly forgettable production of it is unlikely to bowl you over.
Actual lyrics from this show: "The pajama game is what I'm in/And I'm proud to be in the pajama game." Symmetry!