Broadway Musical Time Machine: Looking Back at The Pajama Game

Broadway Musical Time Machine: Looking Back at The Pajama Game

Janis Paige and John Raitt

Janis Paige and John Raitt

One of the most-popular musicals of the 1950s and one that was subsequently performed by almost every high school and community theatre, and that featured a popular Richard Adler and Jerry Ross score, is The Pajama Game. The story of labor at a Midwestern pajama factory on the verge of union strike (in an effort to get a 7 ½ cent raise) spoke to the average working American. Complicating matters, of course, is a romance that breaks out between the factory’s new superintendent and the head of union grievance committee. In the end, everyone gets what they want.

The Pajama Game was based on the book 7 ½ Cents by Richard Bissell. Bissell and Director George Abbot shaped the piece for the stage. Adler and Ross provided the score for what would be their inaugural Broadway effort, and what a score it was. Many popular songs came out of The Pajama Game, including “Steam Heat”, “Hernando’s Hideaway”, and the oft-recorded “Hey There”. Adler and Ross were protégés of composer-lyricist Frank Loesser, who mentored them and even anonymously helped the team write some of The Pajama Game score. Sadly, Adler and Ross would only collaborate on one more score (the following season’s Damn Yankees), before Ross’s premature death from lung disease. 

Eddie Phillips, Carol Haney and Buzz Miller

Eddie Phillips, Carol Haney and Buzz Miller

Perhaps the most fabled story about The Pajama Game (and of all theatre legends) is that of the understudy going on for a lead and who is then spotted by a film producer and is whisked-off to Hollywood. Carol Haney, who played the part of the scene-stealing Gladys (who got the execute the best of the Bob Fosse choreography) broke her leg and chorus girl Shirley MacLaine went on in her place. Director-producer Hal. B. Wallis was in the audience and soon had MacLaine under contract to Paramount Pictures and a movie star was born.

The Pajama Game is also the musical that took dancer Bob Fosse off the stage and made him into one of the most sought-after Broadway choreographers of the day (and for decades to come). Fosse particularly shined at devising specialty numbers that showed-off the talents of a particular dancer, and in this case, it was Carol Haney. In the song “Steam Heat”, Fosse began to shape and perfect the sleek angles and contorted body movements that would someday become indicative of the Fosse style.

Time has not been easy on The Pajama Game and Adler and Ross’s next effort Damn Yankees would prove to have the longer shelf-life. It is hard to say why the show just hasn’t held up over time, but it is no longer performed with the frequency that it once was. It has been revived on Broadway in 1973 and 2006, the former starring Hal Linden shuttered after 65 performances and the latter a Roundabout Theatre production played a limited engagement with stars Harry Connick, Jr. and Kelli O’Hara. That production won Tonys for Best Revival and Best Choreography (Kathleen Marshall).

Interesting Facts About The Pajama Game:

  • The Pajama Game opened on May 13, 1954 at Broadway’s St. James Theatre where it ran for 1,063 performances.  
  • The Pajama Game won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Featured Actress (Haney).
  • In 1957, Warner Brothers released a film version of The Pajama Game that featured almost the entire Broadway cast, save Janis Paige who was replaced by the well-known Doris Day.
  •  The 2006 revival of The Pajama Game featured three new songs written by Richard Adler: “The Three of Us (Me, Myself, and I)”, “The World Around Us”, and “If You Win, You Lose”
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