“The Pajama Game” is definitely a throwback musical.
Sexual harassment at the pajama manufacturing plant is cringeworthy. Workers are demanding a 7½-cent raise, which is kind of paltry considering how low their wages likely are. And the language is soooo 1950s (calling a woman peppy, an outfit nifty — it’s been awhile since we’ve heard talk like that).
All that fades away in the exuberant Arizona Repertory Theatre production on stage at the Marroney Theatre.
Director Danny Gurwin’s visual cartoonish take on the 1954 musical has dulled the impact it might have with a #MeToo generation. Gears hanging from the factory’s ceiling and the sewing machines workers used to make pajamas were cutouts (Bruce Brockman did the set). The costumes (by Richard Tuckett) were in bright primary colors, and the dresses bounced thanks to the crinolines underneath the skirts. And the sprayed-to-immobile hair on many of the women was a perfect 1950s image.
“Pajama Game” is infused with wit and is performed by University of Arizona students who show all the signs of being pros. While you might take note of the very inappropriate in-the-office behavior, there’s too much that’s fun and funny and good about this to take offense.
The story takes place in 1955, in a factory where PJs are made. These workers toil over always-whirring sewing machines and are paid paltry wages. They have demanded a raise from management, but management does not give in that easily.
Into this scene strolls the new guy, Sid, a supervisor who wants and needs the job. But the threat of a strike throws a crimp into his ambition.
And then there’s this: one of the employees is Babe, a no-nonsense woman (you know this because she is one of the few females wearing pants) with whom Sid instantly falls in love. And the feeling’s mutual. But he’s management, she’s not. That can spell trouble when a strike hits.
Sid is infused with romantic life by Matthew Osvog, a senior in the school’s musical theater program. We’ve watched Osvog over several years in UA productions such as “Rent” and “Born Yesterday” and were always impressed.
But the leaps and bounds he has taken while a student at the school are in full view in his portrayal of the conflicted-and-in-love supervisor. When he sings “Hey There” as he pines over Babe, you heard and felt each word. Osvog’s voice is staggeringly good.
He was matched by Marissa Medina Munter as Babe. All the character’s strength and moxie came out in the way she walked and the way she spoke. And she never lost that, even when she melted into Sid’s arms.
Munter, too, is a musical theater senior. She stunned us as Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and made us laugh and love her as the seemingly ditzy blonde in “Born Yesterday.” Here’s the thing about Munter: She loses herself in her characters, which is a great gift for an actress.
Both those performers will be sorely missed after they graduate and move on to the real world.
But, lucky us, there are some younger performers who show the same promise.
Carly Natania Grossman landed the smaller but plum role of Gladys, secretary to the big boss and mad about boys. Grossman is just a sophomore, but she showed a finesse and talent much more mature for her age. She is a natural comedian, killer dancer, and she can sing. The audience on opening night just could not wait for her to come on stage.
Tristan Caldwell is also a sophomore and his role as the time-and-Gladys obsessed Hines was a total hoot. He, too, has impressive comic chops and a fine, fine voice.
UA prof Christie Kerr created witty and fresh choreography — which had to be a touch intimidating: the great Bob Fosse did it for the original production and the subsequent film. The “Steam Heat” song/dance number, with Grossman, Conner Morley and Naphtali Curry, was wildly clever and beautifully performed.
The 13-piece orchestra, led by Mike R. Padilla, was tight and sounded much fuller than the number of musicians would indicate.
“The Pajama Game” bursts with songs that refuse to get out of your head. Tunes like “I’m Not at All in Love,” “Hey There,” “There Once Was a Man (I Love You More)” and others just reinforce why the Golden Age of musicals was so golden.
So, forget the dated aspects of the musical. Check out “The Pajama Game” and expect unbridled joy as you listen to some great songs sung by some great voices, and watch these UA theater students make us think they are accomplished pros.