Pleasant caricatures abound in 42nd Street Moon’s reshaped rendition of Broadway Golden Age musical “The Pajama Game.” A single spotlight shines on efficiency expert Vernon Hines (Nick Nakashima) as he announces that the production is a serious story, one “about labor and capital.” Yet, the tensions between spirited characters on both sides of a labor struggle quickly allow arcs about love and connection to bubble to the surface.
Based on the novel “7 ½ Cents” by Richard Bissell, “The Pajama Game” follows a local garment union’s struggle for a raise at Sleep-Tite, an Iowan pajama company at the forefront of the industry in the 1950s. As Sid Sorokin (Ben Jones), the new superintendent at Sleep-Tite, attempts to keep the production line moving, he is drawn to the head of the union grievance committee Babe Williams (Ashley Garlick) in the opposite camp — leading to a sparklingly comedic romance.
The story’s pace is quickly catapulted by the fast-paced, bubbly beat of the production’s musical numbers. “Racing with the Clock” — with a refrain of “hurry up” from the overworked, stressed factory workers — effectively sets the foundation for the prime conflict of the story: Sleep-Tite’s employees are sick and tired of hustling for pennies on the dollar.
The characters are introduced one after the other amid the first couple of musical numbers, each with their own witty one-liners thrown in the banter between male and female workers. The ensemble’s use of the stage is particularly captivating; props such as mannequins and rolls of pajama fabrics are danced around stage and tossed back and forth, perpetuating a dynamic energy that causes members of the audience to want to jig along.
At times, the twisting romantic storylines are hard to follow given the pace of the show, especially in the beginning. Each song seems to introduce another conflict or plot catalyst to push the story along, inciting emotional whiplash.
For instance, the duet “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” between Hines and Sid’s secretary Mabel (Tracy Camp) — in which Mabel trains the jealous Hines to trust his beloved Gladys (Renee DeWeese) — is immediately followed by the lamenting ballad “Hey There” by Sid, who sings into his dictaphone to create an entrancingly heartfelt duet about his crushed feelings for Babe.
While both of these musical numbers are enchanting in their own way — particularly with Nakashima and Camp’s onstage chemistry and comedic choreography — the drastic emotional contrast with little segue by way of dialogue is difficult to follow, especially when so many characters are involved in these trysts.
Babe and Sid’s consistently ardent encounters are an emotional rock in the midst of this turbulence. Both embody their characters well; Garlick is cuttingly sarcastic and wonderfully independent, while Jones’ stoic thoughtfulness and powerful vocals generate just the right amount of charming pining.
By the middle of the musical, the emotional right turns become less disorienting as a result of the cast’s reliable satirical portrayals of their characters. President of the union Prez (Daniel Thomas) is the desperately lovesick puppy and energetic union leader, Mr. Hasler (Jesse Caldwell) is the uptight, cruddy, penny-pinching boss, Gladys is the strong, sensual secretary. Alongside the musical numbers in which they feature, including the jaunty “Her Is” by Thomas and the Spanish-influenced “Hernando’s Hideaway” by DeWeese, the cast as a whole achieves a balance of hilarity and genuine sentiment.
These caricatures allow the audience to guess at where these twiddling, swiveling musical numbers are going, even if the story’s problems feel a little too easily solved. Creating an enjoyable, laugh-along adventure, “The Pajama Game” accomplishes exactly what it sets out to: an easy-watching comedy experience.
“The Pajama Game” runs at 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco from June 2-19.
Contact Katherine Shok at [email protected].