The Pajama Game

Encores! at NY City Center - May 2002

Review by John Kenrick

Let me tell you about the healing power of musical comedy. After attending the delicious Encores! concert version of The Pajama Game, I found myself on a midtown Manhattan subway platform surrounded by people carrying Playbills from the same event. A husband and wife came down the stairs, humming the show's big hit "Hey There." About halfway through the melody, the wife broke into the lyric – and within seconds, over two dozen of us joined in, filling the station with song. (I am NOT making this up!) We finished to cheers and applause, just in time for a train to pull in. All this in a New York subway station? Now that's what I call healing power!

After 48 years, The Pajama Game is still a joy to behold, one of the most reliable musical comedies ever written. The hit-drenched score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross is backed by an almost foolproof book by George Abbot and Richard Bissell. What a soul-satisfying thrill it is to see and hear it performed with flawless Broadway-level panache. It's barely a decade since the excellent NY City Opera revival, so I'm not sure how this show qualified for Encores!, but who cares? Any excuse will do! Especially when you have two stars on hand who were tailor made for the leading roles.

Karen Ziemba is perfection as Babe, the 1950's union activist who falls in love with her factory foreman. She clearly has a blast, belting through "I'm Not at All in Love," dancing with joyous abandon during "One a Year Day," and making the most of every comic and romantic moment. Of course, it helps to have a co-star who is equally adept with this kind of material. At present, there is no other leading man on Broadway who can match Brent Barrett's voice and sheer sex appeal. He smolders through the lovely "Hey There," bursting into full roar when he and Ziemba share the showstopping "There Once Was a Man." And the two of them look so damn hot sharing one set of pajamas in the finale that I hope the management is providing extra backstage security! As a friend of mine put it, these two pros sent us all to musical comedy heaven.

Isn't it sad that Broadway has not been able to provide either these performers with an original musical comedy hit of their own? Ziemba had to dance to a pre-recorded score in Contact, while Barrett has relied on revivals of Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun to earn his daily bread. If these two had been performing around half a century ago, they would have been tremendous stars. Please, someone -- while they are still at their peak, give these wondrous talents the original shows they and their audiences deserve!

Pajama Game's multitude of comic supporting roles are all in capable hands. Mark Linn-Baker plays the cartoonish time study man Hines with refreshing understatement, and Diedre Goodman sizzles as Gladys, the secretary who inspires Hines to wild fits of jealousy. Daniel Jenkins scores laughs as the haplessly randy union president, and Ken Page is a hoot as the blustering factory owner. The chorus is tops, handling the inevitable minor gaffs (hey, they only rehearse for two weeks!) with such aplomb that it only adds to the fun. Special kudos to Tony Capone, a drop-dead gorgeous ensemble tenor who had folks asking "who was he?" on the way out.

John Rando's smooth direction and John Carrafa's simple but effective choreography bring it all together with wit and style – two things that some of this season's new musicals could have used a lot more of! Rob Fisher and his Coffee Club Orchestra once again work their magic, filling our ears and hearts with Don Walker's timeless orchestrations. 

I can hardly wait to see what Encores! comes up with for next year. As it stands, this fun-packed Pajama Game and the February production of Carnival rate as their best events in several years. Bravo, Encores! Keep that healing energy coming!

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