When 1954’s The Pajama Game was revived on Broadway three years ago, the presence of Harry Connick Jr. in the lead male role set theatergoers atwitter. I could hear some of the women around me quietly gasping to themselves when the jazz-pop singer first walked on stage. By the time he removed his shirt, they were screaming like teenage girls at a Beatles show.
The underpowered version touring through Dallas this week exemplifies the fragility of a flawed piece like The Pajama Game and musical theater in general. The conceits represented by the fourth wall, especially exposition-through-song, require that all the elements come together.
In New York, the production not only had Connick but also the incomparable Kelli O’Hara as his love interest and witty choreography by director Kathleen Marshall. In Dallas, the leads (Jason Winfield and Crystal Kellogg) are vocally adequate but show not a spark of chemistry. The rest of the singing and dancing is underwhelming as well, save for the showy roles of Prez (Jason Elliott Brown) and Gladys (Loriann Freda), the flirty factory nerds.
The Pajama Game is set amid unhappy workers fighting for a wage increase, so it might seem like the perfect musical for our hard economic times. “You think J.P. Morgan got rich leaving the lights on on Wall Street?” the pajama factory president asks early on, severely dating the musical. Even an inserted reference to an era of “financial chaos and economic stimulus packages” doesn’t help.
At bottom, The Pajama Game is a lightweight: not much plot beyond the typical boy-meets-girl scenario, second-act production numbers that can be stunning on their own but mostly bring the action to a halt, and only fair-to-good songs — except for the brilliant middle-class aspirations of “Seven and a Half Cents.”
The Pajama Game runs through Sunday at the Majestic Theatre. For more information, including how to buy tickets, click here.
Image courtesy Phoenix Entertainment