Saturday, November 21, 2020

388. THE PAJAMA GAME. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Hal Linden, Barbara McNair.

[Musical Revival] B: George Abbott and Richard Bissell; M/LY: Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; D: George Abbott; CH: Zoya Laporska; S/C: David Guthrie; L: John Gleason; P: Richard Adler and Bert Wood i/a/w Nelson Peltz; T: Lunt-Fontanne Theatre; 12/9/73-2/3/74 (65)

Cab Calloway, Mary Jo Catlett.

This hit 1954 musical, with its pillow-full of now standard numbers (like “Hey, There,” “Hernando’s Hideaway,” and “Steam Heat”), returned to Broadway under the direction of its co-author and original co-director, 86-year-old George Abbott, and with a company of racially mixed actors. The diversity device was its only bid for novelty. In other ways, the show attempted to recreate the 1954 staging, which had made the reputation of young co-producer Hal Prince; even the choreography was based on the original work of Bob Fosse.

Hal Linden, Willard Waterman, Sharon Miller.

The book, based on Richard Bissell’s novel, 7½ Cents, was once considered daring for its handling of subject matter (a factory strike) thought better suited to leftwing drama. By 1973, it was deemed to not have worn well. Nor could making the love story focus on a black union member (Barbara McNair) give it needed pertinence. The scenic look was rather on the unattractive, economical side, but the rest of the show earned a combination of bravos and complaints, while meeting with few outright rejections. Walter Kerr thought it “genial, spirited but eventually thinnish.” John Simon advised that “if you want an undemanding, cheerful, warm-tub-with-Vitabath of a show, his restful revival is it.” Martin Gottfried. on the other hand, was impressed by how the racial angle deepened the story.

Linden, McNair, and Cab Calloway were loudly praised by most, but Clive Barnes had his doubts:

As the heroine, Babe, Barbara McNair sings vibrantly and looks beautiful, but her acting has the wooden air of a nightclub singer in search of a torch. Hal Linden is almost as badly miscast. He sings modestly and acts with all of his considerable skill, but he is not a natural juvenile lead. Cab Calloway makes as many moments as he can out of the role of Hines, the dumb supervisor, but even with Mr. Calloway the moments are limited. Best I suppose is Sharron Miller as Gladys, who comes over as a tightly packaged bundle of charm.