The Pajama Game

St. Ed's gives this Fifties musical an energetic revival – in Act I, at least

Arts Review

The Pajama Game

Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through April 26

Running time: 2 hr, 30 min

Over the last decade or so, St. Edward's University has nurtured a golden crop of acting students. So it's a special thing to attend a production at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre, known for its liberal use of guest artists in major roles, and see nothing but students dancing and singing their way through a show, as you can in the current production of George Abbott and Richard Bissell's Fifties musical comedy, The Pajama Game.

That phrase, "Fifties musical comedy," should tell you almost everything you need to know about this show, but just in case it doesn't: The story hinges on a social issue (a pay raise for the workers at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory); involves dual love stories, one between new Superintendent Sid (Andrew Cannata) and Babe (Sherry Mauch), the head of the workers grievance committee, and one between popular employee Hines (Jacob Trussell) and the boss' secretary, Gladys (Julia Duffy); and at least three more-than-memorable songs ("Hey There," "Hernando's Hideaway," and "There Once Was a Man").

We're talking Fifties musical comedy here! We're talking singing, dancing, and some occasional acting! And we're talking a large group of multitalented individuals necessary to pull this off! You might think, at first glance, that St. Ed's wouldn't have such a large group of individuals, but either St. Ed's has been recruiting musical comedy talent or director Michael McKelvey and choreographers Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique know how to coach lights out. I know they're quite fortunate to have Cannata, who hits all the right notes as the conscientious, moral Sid, especially when he sings the signature "Hey There." All of the principals enjoy the same kind of success as Cannata, Trussell, and Sarah Burkhalter, who plays Sid's secretary, with the comic "I'll Never Be Jealous Again"; Cannata and Mauch with the home-fried flavor of "There Once Was a Man"; and Duffy and Hans Klein, who plays philandering union head Prez, with "Hers Is," in which Prez attempts to seduce Gladys. Even some of the supporting players scale the musical comedy heights, as Elizabeth Shortall's Mae does when Prez sets his sights on her in the "Hers Is" reprise. Add multiple high-energy dance numbers (a couple with rolling sewing tables), costumes and hair that recall the Fifties with accuracy and fondness, and a fine orchestra led by conductor Jason Connor, and you've got all the pieces to form a perfectly entertaining singing and dancing puzzle.

Which made it that much more strange when the second act fell flat at the performance I attended. Perhaps it was Abbott and Bissell's script, which knits up the story's hanging loose ends so fast, you'd think they'd done it with a twist tie. More likely, the actors were just gassed. The first act is a high-energy flurry of sound and movement, and while the second act has its moments, it felt tired by comparison, especially during the slinky "Steam Heat," in which the dancers did not all appear to be on the same page, and the ill-conceived "Hernando's Hideaway," which began in total darkness and didn't progress much beyond that.

Or, perhaps, that flat second act was an aberration, nothing more than a particularly off night. I know this much: If you want a ticket, call now, as the show already has sold out its run.

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The Pajama Game, St. Edward's University, Michael McKelvey, Danny Herman, Rocker Verastique, Jason Connor, Andrew Cannata, Sherry Mauch

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