In 1954, the musical "Pajama Game"
asked whether a representative of the union grievance committee
and the factory superintendent can find love and happiness while
workers get a seven-and-a-half-cent hourly raise. And for the
past half-century, audiences across the nation have been responding
with a resounding, "Yes."
Now Brooklynites will have a chance to judge for themselves with the Narrows Community Theater production, on stage in Bay Ridge until May 16.
Fueled by George Abbot and Richard Bissell’s energetic book, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ memorable score and Bob Fosse’s incomparable choreography (he made his Broadway debut with the show), "Pajama Game" made the St. James Theatre rock for 1,063 performances. With the capable direction of Jay Michaels, choreography by Dawn Barry Hansen and the musical direction of Kevin Wallace, the old warhorse is sure to do it again at the Fort Hamilton High School auditorium.
John Hefferman (Sky Masterson in "Guys and Dolls" and Cornelius Hackle in "Hello Dolly") plays Sid, the superintendent of the Sleep-Tite pajama factory, opposite Eileen Monahan’s Babe, the union maid. It’s this couple’s on-again, off-again romance that is the central plot of "Pajama Game." Adding humor to the show, Al Whidden plays the jealous boyfriend, Hines, and Hansen plays Gladys, his long-suffering girlfriend.
The most difficult part about discussing "Pajama Game" is knowing where to begin the praise. One hit follows the other so quickly the applause barely has time to finish when it begins again.
Even those unfamiliar with the musical will recognize songs like "I’m Not at All in Love," "Hey There," "Seven and a Half Cents" and "Hernando’s Hideaway." And anyone who has seen the play will not easily forget Mabel (the formidable Ninetta LoPinto) and Hines’ wonderful "what if" number, "I’ll Never Be Jealous Again" and its accompanying soft shoe. What’s more, after 50 years, "Steam Heat" is still steamin’ and "Hernando’s Hideaway" is still hot.
With such wonderful material all Michaels really had to do was find the talent. And he most certainly has. Hefferman and Monahan fight and flirt with equal enthusiasm. Their voices ring out strong and clear as they embrace each song, while Whidden and Hansen provide a hilarious and equally tuneful reverse-mirror image of Sid and Babe’s fitful romance.
This production is also notable for its supporting roles. Zack Abramowitz struts and swaggers as the philandering Prez. James V. Gallagher fusses and fumes as the defiant boss, Mr. Hasler. Natalie Neckyfarow is excellent as the indignant but not-so-innocent Mae.
If "Pajama Game" is the ultimate in entertainment, it also has a more serious side, especially in these days of globalization when unions sometimes find themselves fighting just as much to keep jobs from being outsourced as they do for higher wages.
More than a few people in the audience will undoubtedly leave Fort Hamilton High School whistling the tune to "Seven and a Half Cents." Hopefully they will also remember the words: "Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a heck of a lot. Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy too much. But give it to me on the hour, every hour, 40 hours, that’s enough for me to be living like a king."
Hats off to the Narrows Community Theater for reviving a musical whose time never went away.
Narrows Community Theater’s production of "Pajama Game" plays through May 16, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm, at Fort Hamilton High School (85th Street and Narrows Avenue in Bay Ridge). Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and children under 12. For reservations, call (718) 482-3173.