Despite its hitting the right notes, ATC's The Pajama Game seems, oh, ho hum
I needn't have worked very hard this week reviewing the show I saw, because the noisy dame who sat in front of me critiqued every musical number, every punch line in Arizona Theatre Company's The Pajama Game. "That was good!" she bellowed to her seatmate after the cast busted moves doing "Hernando's Hideaway"; "He's so comical!" she hollered after Bob Sorenson did a routine that involved putting on a pair of pants funny. I just wrote down everything Noisy Dame shouted, then came home.
But I couldn't help but think, once I got back to my place, that while Noisy wasn't necessarily mistaken, she was, perhaps, too easily pleased. There's nothing much to carp about where this Pajama Game is concerned — the music is beautifully played and nicely sung; the choreography is clever; the comic bits are pleasant enough — but after seeing ATC's production, I felt the same way I did after I saw the show listed in its season brochure last year: Ho hum.
The Pajama Game has been around since 1954, when it became the latest in a long string of George Abbott's Broadway hits. Despite the fact that its story is very much mired in the middle of the last century, when musicals were most often about ordinary people doing ordinary things (in this case, working in a pajama-sewing factory whose workers are about to go on strike), Pajama Game has been revived twice. Its successful 2006 Broadway revival has led to its renewed popularity with professional companies, even though it's ultimately little more than a pleasant, rather dated trifle, one that's been a staple of community theaters and junior college companies for half a century.
As ever, ATC and artistic director David Ira Goldstein, who directed this production, have pulled out all the stops. The set is a gorgeous, two-tiered pastiche of aqua and pink, and Lindsay W. Davis' costumes are an homage to all that was smart and fun about '50s fashion. Goldstein brings sparkle and pizzazz to even expository scenes, and his affection for this show is splashed so big over this production that it's easy to overlook its teeny story about striking mill workers and interoffice romance.
Goldstein has made a peculiar choice with his male lead, however. I'm all for color-blind casting, especially when it involves a performer as beguiling as Kevyn Morrow, the African-American actor who portrays Sid Sorokin, the new Sleep Tite bossman. But Goldstein has blundered in asking us to believe that a black man dating a white woman in 1954 Iowa would go as unnoticed as it does by the denizens of this Pajama Game. And, okay, so all musical comedy demands a suspension of disbelief — real people, after all, don't burst into fully orchestrated and choreographed musical numbers every 15 minutes — but this is a misstep that throws the whole proceedings off.
Which isn't to say that Morrow isn't superb here. His singing voice is lovely (although his upper register isn't so strong that his solos wouldn't have benefited from some transposition; where was musical director Christopher McGovern?) and his chemistry with charismatic Kelly McCormick is quite lovely to behold. But every time he strode onstage to sing charmingly about pay increases or began romancing McCormick's character, all I could think of was When are these nimrod Iowans going to notice he's Colored?
Perhaps even more unsettling for me was the passionless performance by Bob Sorenson, a multi-talented performer who handed in what had to be last season's best acting work in I Am My Own Wife. Here, as timekeeper Hines, Sorenson walks through every moment of his performance. I'm pretty sure I've never seen such lackluster execution from Sorenson, who appeared, at the Sunday matinee I attended, to be bored out of his mind up on stage.
Ultimately, so was I. Not because this production isn't a well-wrought Pajama Game, but because Pajama Game is, in the end, a sweetly dated confection, a charming "ho hum" but not much more.
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