The format for reviewing musicals this season has become sadly routine. The critics regularly begin by sighing that Shirley Booth (or Alfred Drake, or Gwen Verdon, or Jeanmaire) is delightful but that the show's book (or music, or lyrics, or both) is far below par. In The Pajama Game, the balance is finally restored: the excellent cast must compete with the script and score for the evening's honors. As a result, the intermission in The Pajama Game is an unpardonable intrusion and the final curtain falls hours too soon. It is the most consistently entertaining musical in several years.
Based on the novel "7 1/2 Cents" by Richard Bissell, the show concerns life in a pajama factory. What this setting lacks in glamour, the cast more than makes up. Janis Paige, who desported in her unmentionables in Remains To Be Seen, is back in fine voice and better shape. Best of all, Jerome Robbin has discovered a dancer, Carol Haney, who scores the biggest personal hit since Carol Channing extolled the virtues of precious stones. Miss Haney, after proving in the first act that she is no slouch in the slither-and-sling category, dresses like a man for a dance number, "Steam Heat." By dint of talent and personality, Miss Haney overcomes the understandable audience disappointment at this deception and turns the routine into the evening's highpoint. She also sings the show's best novelty, "Hernando's Hideaway," a nonsensical little tango which she tears into with grim intensity. Since the lyrics are something like: "At the Golden Finger Bowl or anywhere you go, You'll meet your Uncle Max and everyone you know," you might guess that no one takes the songs, or the show, very seriously.
For that reason, it is surprising that The Pajama Game has a substantial plot. John Raitt plays the superintendent of a Sleeptite factory who is in love with a labor agitator, played, whenever possible in black lingerie, by Miss Paige. Their romance is hindered, though not drastically, by a strike of the workers for a 7 1/2 cents wage increase. All ends happily, however, in a burst of song and gaudy pajamas.
Since Raitt's voice is forceful and pleasant and Miss Paige's acting is the same, they make a good team. But, on the show's best ballad, "Hey, There," there is a more unique coupling. Raitt booms the tune into a dictaphone, allowing one of those duets with himself which now pervade popular music. This technique is not new to composers Adler and Ross who have had more experience in Tin Pan Alley than on Broadway. Their songs, including "I'm Not At All In Love," "Her Is," and "I Love You More," will probably do double duty both in the show and on the Hit Parade.
Director George Abbot has surrounded his chief assets with other gilt-edged securities. Eddie Foy, Jr., charged with providing much of the comedy, does well indeed when he doesn't reach too far into burlesque for his material. And since--with Mae Barnes turning the tide for By the Beautiful Sea-- this looks like a big year for fat women on Broadway, Reta Shaw is on hand to bolster numbers like "I'll Never Be Jealous Again."
If the perfectionist must have something to carp at in The Pajama Game, he can pick on the scenery by Lemucl Ayers which is not up to recent musical sets. With Misses Hancy and Paige in the cast, on the other hand, the show's best scenery was not designed by man.