THEATER REVIEW: “The Pajama Game” @ Ohio Light Opera by Kelly Ferjutz

Through Sat 8/11

In the mid-1950s, a dispute between labor and management was always serious. Thank goodness for this exception. Based on a book titled 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell, the story became an award winning musical comedy that is entirely plausible and realistic some 60+ years later.

Ohio Light Opera in Wooster opened its 40th anniversary season a week ago with a bright and chipper presentation of this Tony Award-winning play that put choreographer Bob Fosse on the way to fame and fortune.

From the very first note of the overture, familiar tunes lure us into the enchantment of the musical by a new team of composer Richard Adler and lyricist Jerry Ross. They burst onto the New York musical scene with this first big hit (followed up the following year by possibly the even more famous Damn Yankees. Sadly, the premature death of Ross at the age of 29 a year later ended the collaboration. Frank Loesser had been mentoring the two and contributed two uncredited hits to the score: “There Once Was a Man” and “A New Town Is a Blue Town.”

Directed by Jacob Allen, this production contains enough energy to light up a good many theaters. Spencer Reese created the joyous choreography. Colorful, yet appropriate costumes are by Myron Elliott, and enhanced by the lighting design of Brittany Shemuga. The versatile set (several small rooms easily moved on or off the stage behind the clever scrim is by Daniel Hobbs. J. Lynn Thompson conducted the multitalented, versatile orchestra — more brass than strings for this particular production.)

The plot revolves around the struggle of the workers against unsympathetic management, all the while fighting off the romantic elements that swirl through and around. Myron Hasler (Cory Clines), manager of the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory, is adamantly against any raise for his slightly disgruntled workers. Among these are the union rep Prez (Spencer Reese), Babe (Alexa Devlin), head of the union’s grievance committee, the newly-hired superintendent Sid (Nathan Brian), his secretary Mabel (Hannah Kurth), time-keeper Hines (Daniel Neer) and Hasler’s secretary Gladys (Sarah Best).

It’s very easy to follow the action of the employees, whether they’re planning a slow-down in the stitching area or enjoying themselves at the company picnic. Among the musical hits are “Hey, There,” “Once-A-Year-Day,” “There Once Was a Man,” “Hernando’s Hideway,” “7½ Cents” and the sizzling “Steam Heat.”

 (A personal note: In 1954 when this show first appeared on Broadway, there really was no “popular music” as there is today. The music heard on the radio (and very early TV) came from Broadway and/or Hollywood. If a show tune landed on the Hit Parade it was a very BIG deal. Rosemary Clooney’s version of “Hey There” was number one for several weeks, while “Hernando’s Hideaway” was also big, as was “Steam Heat” (where it wasn’t banned, that is). Perhaps that’s why these songs resonate so well with an older audience — it was the music of our youth. And about that 7½ cent an hour raise? Don’t laugh. I had a part-time job at that time and my hourly wage was 60 cents. Believe me, 7½ cents would have been a very big deal to this high school senior.)

The Pajama Game is now in repertory through August 11 in its usual venue, Freedlander Theatre on the campus of Wooster College. For tickets call 330-263-2345 or go to at ohiolightopera.org.

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