“The Pajama Game” Brings Fun To Factory Work

The Pajama Game 5th Ave Seattle

“The Pajama Game” opens in Seattle and the factory workers need a 7 1/2 cent raise now! Things are heating up at the Sleep-Tite Pajama factory and there is no turning back. See the musical that launched Shirley MacLaine’s career and more. “The Pajama Game” is playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through March 5, 2017, and you can get tickets right here.

Labor-management relations have gone musical. No, not Jimmy Hoffa nor César Chávez. Just an old fashioned Tony winner, a light-hearted romp about labor and love with a hot new look. “The Pajama Game” is playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Artistic Director Bill Berry directs, with Bob Fosse-inspired choreography by Bob Richard and music direction by Joel Fram.

Based on the novel “7½ Cents by Richard Bissell, the musical’s book was co-written by  Broadway legend, George Abbott and Bissell, while the music and lyrics are by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (You might recall another of their gems, “Damn Yankees”). Abbott and Jerome Robbins co-directed the show.

The original production, set in a Cedar Rapids, Iowa factory, debuted on Broadway in May 1954 and won a Tony Award for Best Musical, plus another Tony for a young choreographer by the name of Bob Fosse. The show was revived in 1973, and again in 2006. The 1973 revival didn’t fare as well, closing after 65 performances. But the 2006 Broadway revival starring Kelli O’Hara and Harry Connick, Jr. received a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

The Pajama Game

Billie Wildrick and Josh Davis star in “The Pajama Game” at 5th Avenue Theatre.
(© Mark Kitaoka)

With things are heating up at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, there’s talk of a strike. Union workers want a raise—seven and half cents more an hour, but management doesn’t want to pay it. So what happens? It’s musical theater, so, of course, Katherine “Babe” Williams, head of the union grievance committee, falls in love with Sid Sorokin, the handsome, new factory superintendent, and vice versa. Of course, they fight and make-up and so on. The talented Billie Wildrick leads the 5TH Avenue cast as Babe, with Josh Davis making his 5th Avenue debut as Sid.

Wildrick is a Seattle treasure and 5th Avenue favorite.  Her acting, versatility, and beautiful belting soprano never disappoint. Her many theatrical credits include Eve in Kathie Lee Gifford’s Broadway musical “Scandalous” and starring roles at numerous regional and local theaters. Plus, she’s also launched a career as a director.

An actor, producer and writer, Davis made his Broadway bow in the “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. He’s also been seen at regional theaters and made guest appearances on television. You might have heard his voiceover work for Papa John’s, Hulu, Royal Canin, 3M, and Shark Week, among others.

The show’s supporting cast includes Greg McCormick Allen, Kyle Robert Carter, Taryn Darr, Sarah Rose Davis, Allen Galli, David Pichette, and Shaunyce Omar, among others.

The plot: The union has a plan–slow down the production line and concoct ways to sabotage the pajamas. The PJs–aka jimmies, jimjams or jammies–in the 5th Avenue production probably won’t resemble the Baby Doll styles of the 1950s. Most likely, the designs will be more provocative. Maybe a hint of Victoria’s Secret.

Most of the supporting roles in this musical are comedic. If you’ve ever worked on a factory assembly line, you will recognize them. There’s a company tart, a married skirt-chaser, the boss’s sassy secretary, the strict but shifty boss with a secret, a jealous efficiency expert, a crew of workers, a mother hen, and a gaggle of factory girls/union activists.

In the 1954 show, a young Shirley MacLaine understudied the part of the boss’s secretary and later took over the role when Carol Haney broke her ankle. It was a lucky break for MacLaine. Movie producer, Hal Wallis happened to be in the audience and signed her as a contract player for Paramount Pictures.

“The Pajama Game” has a delightful score. Compared to today’s showtunes, it’s old-fashioned. But back in the day, some of the songs made the pop charts: The sizzling dance number, “Steam Heat”, the tango-driven “Hernando’s Hideaway”, and the ballad, “Hey There” (Here’s hoping they sing its lovely verse.)  “Hey There” was subsequently covered by Rosemary Clooney, Johnnie Ray, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bette Midler, and Doris Day, who starred in the 1957 film version. Two of the uncredited songs, ‘There Once Was a Man” and “A New Town Is a Blue Town” were actually written by Frank Loesser, who mentored Adler and Ross.

Broadway insiders may not classify “The Pajama Game” as one of the great musical comedies like “Gypsy”, “South Pacific”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Hello Dolly!” and the new kid on the block “Hamilton”. Most would admit that “PG” is lots of fun though.  And wouldn’t it be even more fun if the audiences wore their PJs to the theater?  Just suggesting . . . .

“The Pajama Game” is playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through March 5, 2017. Get tickets here.

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times “Style” section for her “Word Portraits,” specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that “Starla” is indeed her real name.

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